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The Effects of Worker Learning, Forgetting, and Heterogeneity on Assembly Line Productivity


  • Scott M. Shafer

    () (Babcock Graduate School of Management, Wake Forest University, P.O. Box 7659, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27109-7659)

  • David A. Nembhard

    () (Department of Industrial Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1513 University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53706-1572)

  • Mustafa V. Uzumeri

    () (Department of Management, Auburn University, 415 W. Magnolia Avenue, Auburn, Alabama 36849-5241)


The authors investigate through several simulations how patterns of learning and forgetting affect the operating performance of an assembly line. A unique aspect of this study is that a distribution of learning/forgetting behavior based on an empirical population of workers is used rather than assuming the same learning pattern for all employees. The paper demonstrates that modeling only central tendency and not the variations across workers tends to systematically underestimate overall productivity. The data used to estimate the parameters for the distribution of learning curves were collected from an assembly line that produces car radios. Analysis of the models fit to a population of workers reveals that higher levels of previous experience are positively correlated with higher steady-state productivity levels and negatively correlated with the learning rate. To further motivate the study, a conceptual model with several factors hypothesized to influence assembly line productivity is presented. Among key factors included in the model are the rate of worker learning, the size of the worker pool, task tenure, and the magnitude of worker forgetting. In controlled computer simulation experiments, each of these factors was found to be statistically significant, as were a number of the two-way interaction terms.

Suggested Citation

  • Scott M. Shafer & David A. Nembhard & Mustafa V. Uzumeri, 2001. "The Effects of Worker Learning, Forgetting, and Heterogeneity on Assembly Line Productivity," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 47(12), pages 1639-1653, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:47:y:2001:i:12:p:1639-1653

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Uzumeri, Mustafa & Sanderson, Susan, 1995. "A framework for model and product family competition," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 24(4), pages 583-607, July.
    2. Charles D. Bailey, 1989. "Forgetting and the Learning Curve: A Laboratory Study," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 35(3), pages 340-352, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kenneth L. Schultz & Tobias Schoenherr & David Nembhard, 2010. "An Example and a Proposal Concerning the Correlation of Worker Processing Times in Parallel Tasks," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 56(1), pages 176-191, January.
    2. John W. Boudreau, 2004. "50th Anniversary Article: Organizational Behavior, Strategy, Performance, and Design in Management Science," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 50(11), pages 1463-1476, November.
    3. Ortego-Marti, Victor, 2017. "Differences in skill loss during unemployment across industries and occupations," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 161(C), pages 31-33.
    4. David Besanko & Ulrich Doraszelski & Yaroslav Kryukov & Mark Satterthwaite, 2008. "Learning-by-Doing, Organizational Forgetting, and Industry Dynamics," GSIA Working Papers 2009-E22, Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business.
    5. Ortego-Marti, Victor, 2017. "Loss of skill during unemployment and TFP differences across countries," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 215-235.
    6. Eelke Wiersma, 2007. "Conditions That Shape the Learning Curve: Factors That Increase the Ability and Opportunity to Learn," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 53(12), pages 1903-1915, December.
    7. repec:pal:jorsoc:v:56:y:2005:i:5:d:10.1057_palgrave.jors.2601842 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. David Besanko & Ulrich Doraszelski & Yaroslav Kryukov, 2017. "How Efficient is Dynamic Competition? The Case of Price as Investment," NBER Working Papers 23829, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Corominas, Albert & Olivella, Jordi & Pastor, Rafael, 2010. "A model for the assignment of a set of tasks when work performance depends on experience of all tasks involved," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 126(2), pages 335-340, August.
    10. Koen H. Heimeriks & Geert Duysters, 2007. "Alliance Capability as a Mediator Between Experience and Alliance Performance: An Empirical Investigation into the Alliance Capability Development Process," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(1), pages 25-49, January.
    11. Valeva, Silviya & Hewitt, Mike & Thomas, Barrett W. & Brown, Kenneth G., 2017. "Balancing flexibility and inventory in workforce planning with learning," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 183(PA), pages 194-207.
    12. Jahangirian, Mohsen & Eldabi, Tillal & Naseer, Aisha & Stergioulas, Lampros K. & Young, Terry, 2010. "Simulation in manufacturing and business: A review," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 203(1), pages 1-13, May.
    13. Azizi, Nader & Zolfaghari, Saeed & Liang, Ming, 2010. "Modeling job rotation in manufacturing systems: The study of employee's boredom and skill variations," International Journal of Production Economics, Elsevier, vol. 123(1), pages 69-85, January.
    14. Luca Colombo & Paola Labrecciosa, 2012. "Inter-firm knowledge diffusion, market power, and welfare," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 22(5), pages 1009-1027, November.
    15. Hewitt, Mike & Chacosky, Austin & Grasman, Scott E. & Thomas, Barrett W., 2015. "Integer programming techniques for solving non-linear workforce planning models with learning," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 242(3), pages 942-950.
    16. Olivella, Jordi & Nembhard, David, 2016. "Calibrating cross-training to meet demand mix variation and employee absence," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 248(2), pages 462-472.
    17. Hockenberry, Jason M. & Helmchen, Lorens A., 2014. "The nature of surgeon human capital depreciation," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 37(C), pages 70-80.
    18. Ray Reagans & Linda Argote & Daria Brooks, 2005. "Individual Experience and Experience Working Together: Predicting Learning Rates from Knowing Who Knows What and Knowing How to Work Together," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 51(6), pages 869-881, June.
    19. Sayin, Serpil & Karabati, Selcuk, 2007. "Assigning cross-trained workers to departments: A two-stage optimization model to maximize utility and skill improvement," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 176(3), pages 1643-1658, February.
    20. Gnanlet, Adelina & Gilland, Wendell G., 2014. "Impact of productivity on cross-training configurations and optimal staffing decisions in hospitals," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 238(1), pages 254-269.


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