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LEARNING CURVES IN AUTOMOBILE ASSEMBLY


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Conference Paper September 2011
DOI: 10.13140/2.1.4363.6168

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Bandung Institute of Technology

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Proceedings of the 16th Annual


International Conference on Industrial Engineering
Theory, Applications and Practice
Stuttgart, Germany
September 20-23, 2011

LEARNING CURVES IN AUTOMOBILE ASSEMBLY LINE


Sebrina1, Lucia Diawati2, Andi Cakravastia3
1

Department of Industrial Engineering and Management


Bandung Institute of Technology
Jl. Ganesha 10
Bandung, Indonesia 40132
Corresponding authors e-mail: sebrina_aie@yahoo.com
2, 3

Department of Industrial Engineering


Bandung Institute of Technology
Jl. Ganesha 10
Bandung, Indonesia 40132

Abstract: Automobile assembly line always deals with technological changes and developments. In order to prevent
performance decline, the line must have a good learning process. Learning curve model is a method to describe learning
capability of an organization. A case study has been conducted in one of major automobile manufacturers in Indonesia. It
produces variants of products and implements a mixed model assembly line. The purposes of this research are to identify
the learning curve models, investigate factors influencing learning rates, and examine the relationship between learning
rate and defect rate. This paper applies log-linear model as a reference to construct the learning curve models and
calculate their learning rate. Six non linear models have been developed. The learning rates are various among product
variants and slower than the best practice in automobile industry. Product complexity, production takt time, obstacles in
processes, product production lead time, and forgetting contribute to the variations among learning rates.
Keywords: learning curve, learning rate, product complexity, defect rate

1. INTRODUCTION
Automobile assembly line always deals with technological changes and developments. The workers are expected to be
able to use and master new technology. It requires them to learn quickly in order to prevent performance decline.
Therefore, the line must have a good learning process. Learning curve model is a method to describe learning capability
of an organization as the accumulation of experience. The concept of learning curve model has been widely used in
industry since the late of 1930s. The study about learning curve model was firstly reported by Wright (1936) in aircraft
industry. His model known as log-linear learning curve model as expressed in equation (1). Figure 1 shows log-linear
learning curve with 80% learning rate; means that each doubling of cumulative production leads to 20% reduction in unit
cost (time). The area below the curve can be devided into two zones i.e. learning and standard time zone. These zones
indicate the learning stage of organization.

YX AX b
where:
Y : the number of direct labor hours required to produce the X-th unit;
X : the cumulative unit number;
A : the number of direct labor hours required to produce the first unit;
b
: the learning index.

(1)

Anzanello and Fogliatto (2007) define learning curve models as a non linear regression models that associate
workers performance to task characteristics. After Wright's investigation, numerous learning curve models have been
developed. A comprehensive survey about learning curve and its application was conducted by Yelle (1979). Asher
(1956) proposed Standford B learning curve model by adding experience factor to log-linear model. DeJong's learning
curve model differentiate the operations between manual and nonmanual one (DeJong, 1957). He introduced
incompressible factor in the model to represent nonmanual operation.

Proceedings of the 16th Annual


International Conference on Industrial Engineering
Theory, Applications and Practice
Stuttgart, Germany
September 20-23, 2011

Production time per unit (minute)

60

50

40

30

Learning Curve
20

10

Learning
Period

Standard Time

0
0

40

80

120

160

200

240

280

Cummulative Production Volume (unit)

Figure 1. Learning Curve with 80% Learning Rate

Wright (1936) found that the production time decreases when the quantity of production doubles with uniform rate.
This rate is known as learning rate. It suggests the resources required to produce the product when the product quantity
doubles (NASA, 2008). Learning rate can be measured by using equation (2).
2 b
where:
: the learning rate.

(2)

Learning curve model has many applications such as formulating manufacturing strategy, production scheduling,
product pricing and marketing, training, subcontracting, and predicting competitors cost (Argote and Epple, 1990). It has
been used for variety of operating management purposes especially in the areas of cost planning and control (Pegels,
1976). Badiru (1992) stated that learning curve model can be used to estimate break event point. Dar-El and Rubinovitz
(1991) implemented learning theory into planning model in assembly lines for new products. The learning curve model
also can be used to predict the operating performance of new plants, identify under-performing processes, and benchmark
past projects ini order to discover best practices for future projects Blancett (2002).
This paper identifies the learning curve model of automobile product variants, investigates factors influencing
learning rates, and examines the relationship between learning rate and defect rate. It is organized as follows. Section 1
describes the background of the research and literature review related to learning curve model. In Section 2, we propose
the research method and data used in this paper. Results and analysis are discussed in Section 3. Finally, in section 4 we
draw conclusion and future research.

2. RESEARCH METHOD
As stated before, a case study has been done in one of major automobile manufacturers in Indonesia. We investigated six
product variants from two different assembly lines (I and II). The assembly line comprises of three processes i.e.
trimming, chassis, and final assembly. Most of assembling processes are still operated manually with some automations
in chassis. Each product has its own specification. For futher details, we present the description of products in Table 1.
Figure 2 describes research method including the data input, computation process, and output. As stated in Figure 2,
the inputs are production data, quality record, product complexity, and technoware assessment. Production data and
quality record were obtained from company databases between January 2009-June 2010. Instead of using cost, we use
production time as an approach due to data availability. Meanwhile, product complexity and technoware assessment were

Proceedings of the 16th Annual


International Conference on Industrial Engineering
Theory, Applications and Practice
Stuttgart, Germany
September 20-23, 2011
attained from survey. We calculated the production time per unit and cumulative production volume from production data
to construct learning curve models.

Table 1. Descriptions of Product Variants


No.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Product
Variant
A
B
C
D
E
F

Product Type
MPV
MPV
Pick up truck
SUV
City Car
SUV

Specifications
Machine Capacity Transmission System
1,500 cc
Manual
1,600 cc
Automatic
1,500 cc
Manual
2,000 cc
Manual
1,500 cc
Automatic
1,500 cc
Manual

Assembly Line
I
I
I
II
II
II

This research utilizes log-linear model as reference to develop learning curve model because of its simplicity and
ability to capture learning phenomenon with less parameter compares to other models. It has two approaches namely unit
cost model and cumulative average cost model. At first, we applied unit cost model but the regression values are very low
due to data variation. To overcome this condition, Dar-El (2000) recommended to employ cumulative average cost
model. It produces higher R2 than the former model. The cumulative average also gives a better parameter estimation
compared to unit cost model (Dar-El, 2000). After determining learning curve models we calculated the learning rate
using equation (2).

PROSES

INPUT
Production data

Calculating production time


per unit and cumulative
production volume

OUTPUT

Determining learning curve


model and learning rate
The effect of learning
rate to defect rate

Quality record

Determining product quality

Product complexity

Calculting product
complexity

Technoware
assessment

Determining contribution of
technoware

Calculating defect rate

Determining the
relationship between
contribution of Technoware
and product complexity

The effect of product


complexity to learning
rate

Figure 2. Research method

The quality record contains all of information about product quality such as defect type, inspection gate, source gate,
etc. Based on this data, we found out the final quality of product (whether it is accepted or rejected) so that the defect rate
can be estimated. To get an understanding about the effect of learning process to the quality of product, we implemented
simple regression between learning rate and defect rate.

Proceedings of the 16th Annual


International Conference on Industrial Engineering
Theory, Applications and Practice
Stuttgart, Germany
September 20-23, 2011
Moreover, we also calculated product complexity and contribution of technoware. Closs et. al (2008) defined
product complexity as a state of processing difficulty that results from a multiplicity of, and relatedness among, product
architectural design elements. In this paper, product complexity is measured based on design difficulty which includes six
metrics namely design type, complexity of the knowledge needed to complete the design, number of step needed to
complete the design, quality implementation effort, process design, and aggressive goals for selling process (Moody, et.
al, 1997). It is expressed in mathematical formulation as follows.
6

C Mi

(3)

i 1

where:
i
:
C
:
M1 :
M2 :
M3 :
M4 :
M5 :
M6
:

index;
product complexity;
design type;
complexity of the knowledge needed to complete the design;
number of step needed to complete the design;
quality implementation effort;
process design;
aggressive goals for selling price.

On the other hand, contribution of technoware is evaluated by adopting technometric method (UNESCAP, 1989).
The evaluation is taken on production facilities (assembly line I and II). The assessment of product complexity and
contribution of technoware were done by survey in production department. We used both information to explain the
variation of learning rates among product variants. The learning rates of an operation is generally assumed to vary as a
function of product and process complexity (Pananiswaml and Bishop, 1991). Then, another simple regression is applied
to describe the influence of product complexity to learning rates.

3. DISCUSSION
In this section, we present the output of research and analyze them to show the company performance.
3.1 Results
We identified the learning curve model of product variants by using cumulative average cost model as the reference.
Table 2 summarizes the learning curve models and learning rates. All of learning curve models have regression values
more than 0.7 except for product type E. Its regression value is 0.4.

Table 2. Summary of Learning Curve Models, Learning Rates, and Defect Rates
No.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Product Type
A
B
C
D
E
F

Learning Curve Model


Y 237.580 X 0,011
Y 259.765 X 0, 029
Y 237.066 X 0,010
Y 329.419 X 0,045
Y 431.938 X 0, 068
Y 380.978 X 0, 051

Learning Rate
99.24%
98.01%
99.31%
96.93%
95.40%
96.53%

Defect Rate
7,35%
10,86%
4,51%
7,19%
7,04%
9,46%

Based on the survey in production department, we got the product complexity as shown in Table 3. The score of
product complexity lies between 0-55. While, the value of technoware contribution is between 0 and 1. The measurement
shows that the contribution of technoware for each assembly lines are 0.78 and 0.84 respectively.

Proceedings of the 16th Annual


International Conference on Industrial Engineering
Theory, Applications and Practice
Stuttgart, Germany
September 20-23, 2011
Table 3. Score of Product Complexity
No.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Product Type
A
B
C
D
E
F

M1
5
5
6
14
13
14

M2
7
8
5
9
8
8

M3
6
7
6
8
8
8

M4
6
6
5
9
9
9

M5
4
4
3
5
5
5

M6
3
3
3
4
4
4

Product Complexity
31
33
28
49
47
48

3.2 Analysis
In this session, we will discuss the result of research. The learning rate among product variants is various (Table 2). It is
greater than 95% means that each doubling of cumulative production only gives 5% reduction in processing time. This is
slower than the best practice in automobile assembly line. Balloff in Dar-El (2000) studied the learning rate in automobile
assembly. He found that the value remains between 80-84%. This variation was caused by several factors such as
characteristics of processes and products.
Based on the company historical data, the production process was not smooth. There were some obstacles that
interfered the assembling process for example equipment errror, delay in component supply, product defect, error in
information system, etc. During January 2009 untill June 2010, the company lost about 7% and 10% of its production
time for assembly line I and II respectively. The obstacles degrade the average of process efficiency in both assembly
lines that are 93.51% and 90.14% correspondingly. It slows down the progress of learning curve.
The various learning rates were also triggerred by product complexity, product production cycle, production takt
time, and forgetting. The score of product complexity that is assembled in assembly line I is lower than assembly line II.
Products from assembly line II have higher requirement compared to those from assembly line I. It aligns with
contribution of technoware. The contribution of technoware in assembly line II is higher than assembly line I. The
relationship of product complexity and learning rate of the assembly lines is also different. For assembly line I, it has
negative correlation. Meanwhile, it has positive correlation in assembly line II. This was caused by variation of product
type and product production cycle. Among the product variants, only product E that has complete histrorical production
data from the first unit. The rest of them have been being produced before 2009 so that the learning processes are not
completely observed. These lead to variation of learning rates.
In addition, production takt time influences the learning rate. It means that production rithm is adjustable to the
demand. When demand goes up, the cycle time will decrease so that the time needed to assemble a unit declines. On the
other hand, the cycle time and processing time will increase when demand goes down. The demand fluctuation will
disturb the learning process. It is also found forgetting phenomenon as one of factors that affect learning rate. It occured
because of break or interruption during the production. When forgetting occurs, the performance of workers such as
working speed will be lower. Usually worker performance will recuperate to normal condition after relearning process.
The learning process of product variants affects the performance of assembly line i.e. defect rate. The learning rate
influences defect rate proportionally. The increasing of learning rate will increase the defect rate. It indicates that learning
process is not running well remarked by the increasing number of rejected products. This founding is the same with study
conducted by Kannan and Palocsay (1999).

4. CONCLUSION AND FUTURE RESEARCH

Six non linear models have been developed to identify the learning process and to describe the learning rates. The
learning rates are various among product variants, and they are slower compared to those of the best practice of
automobile industry. The variation is caused by some factors namely product complexity, production takt time, obstacles
in process, product production cycle, and forgetting. The regression model proves that learning rate affects defect rate.
The study indicates that the identified learning curve models can be used to estimate potential capacity increase along
with the progress of learning curve.
Further research is needed to extent the current model by considering learning cost that must be provided to achieve
certain level of learning rate. Multivariate analysis can be used as an alternative approach to develop learning curve

Proceedings of the 16th Annual


International Conference on Industrial Engineering
Theory, Applications and Practice
Stuttgart, Germany
September 20-23, 2011
model by integrating all variables that influence the learning process. In addition, the similar study can be implemented in
other automobile companies so that we could benchmark the learning capability in automobile industry. Another research
can also be done by investigating the learning process in manufacturing companies with different technology content to
have a map of learning profiles of similar companies.

5. REFERENCES
Anzanello, M. J., & Fogliatto, F. S. (2007). Learning Curve Modelling of Work Assignment in Mass Customized
Assembly Lines. International Journal of Production Research , 45, 2919-2938.
Argote, L., & Epple, D. (1990). Learning Curves in Manufacturing. Science , 247, 920-924.
Asher, H. (1956). Cost-Quantity Relationships in the Airframe Industry. California: The Rand Coorporation.
Badiru, A. B. (1992). Manufacturing Cost Estimation: A Multivariate Learning Curve Approach. Journal of
Manufacturing Systems , 10, 431-441.
Blancett, R. S. (2002). Learning from Productivity Learning Curves. Research Technology Management , pp. 54-58.
Closs, D. J., Nyaga, G. N., Voss, M. D., & Webb, G. S. (2008). Towar a Theory of Competencies for the Management of
Product Complexity: Six Case Studies. Journal of Operations Management , 26, 590-610.
Dar-El, E. (2000). Human Learning: from Learning Curves to Learning Organizations. Massachusetts: Kluwer Academic
Publishers.
Dar-El, E., & Rubinovitz, J. (1991). Using Learning Theory in Assembly Lines for New Products. International Journal
of Production Economics , 25, 103-109.
DeJong, J. R. (1957). The Effects of Increasing Skill on Cycle Time and Its Concequences for Time Standards.
Ergonomics , 51-60.
Kannan, V. R., & Palocsay, S. W. (1999). Cellular vs Process Layouts: An Analytic Investigation of the Impact of
Learning on Shop Performance. The International Journal of Management Science , 27, 583-592.
Moody, Alan, J., Chapman, W. L., Voorhees, F. D., & Bahill, A. T. (1997). Metrics and Case Studies for Evaluating
Engineering Designs. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
NASA. (2008). Economic and Supporting Analysis. In NASA, NASA Cost Estimating Handbook (pp. 156-159).
Pananiswaml, S., & Bishop, R. C. (1991). Behavioral Implications of the Learning Curve for Production Capacity
Analysis. International Journal of Production Economics , 24, 157-163.
Pegels, C. C. (1976). Start Up or Learning Curves--Some New Approaches. Decision Sciences , 7, 705-713.
UNESCAP. (1989). A Framework for Technology Based Development: Technology Content Assessment. Bangalore:
Asian and Pasific Centre for Transfer of Technology.
Wright, T. P. (1936). Factors Affecting the Cost of Airplanes. Journal of Aeronautical Science , 3, 122-128.
Yelle, L. E. (1979). The Learning Curve: Historical Review and Comprehensive Survey. Decision Sciences , 10, 302-328.