Leading central heating boiler manufacturer Baxi Heating UK has reduced the floor space occupied by two of its assembly lines by 33 per cent by switching to modular Lean Tek workstations and lineside storage supplied by the Tube & Bracket Company. The new assembly lines have been introduced as part of Baxi Heating UK's lean manufacturing programme which is enabling the company to improve overall production quality and introduce highly flexible manufacturing to respond to changing market and business requirements.
“We can build workstations and lineside storage to exactly the size we need and so far have saved around a third of floor space which can now be used for other tasks,” says David Hall, Production Engineer at Baxi Heating UK's boiler assembly site. “We have also made other savings in terms of productivity by going lean and quality has improved so we have greatly reduced defects on finished products.”
Baxi Heating UK is part of the international Baxi Group Ltd, one of Europe's leading heating groups. The company has recently started to restructure the production processes at its Assembly Operations Plant in Burnley to introduce lean manufacturing. It aims to streamline processes, reduce costs and enable greater flexibility and responsiveness to changing market requirements.
The company approached The Tube & Bracket Company, which then devised a prototype workstation using its modular Lean Tek system of tubes, brackets, wheels and other components. Baxi Heating UK trialled the workstation before deciding that the modular approach would provide an ideal solution for its lean manufacturing assembly lines.
In the first phase of its programme Baxi Heating UK has reconfigured two of its conventional boiler assembly lines for lean manufacturing. Existing fabricated workbenches have been replaced with new workstations created using Lean Tek. The assembly lines are identical with each comprising twelve unique workstations designed and configured for a specific task. The workstations are on wheels so that they can be repositioned easily if a change in assembly line configuration is required.
A static “parts supermarket” has been built with Lean Tek alongside the assembly lines to hold boiler components until they are needed for production. Stock is replenished from the main warehouse when it falls to predetermined levels, which helps ensure that components are always available but the space used to store them at the lineside is minimised.
Using Lean Tek ensures that facilities can be built to precise dimensions to occupy the optimum floor space, no more, no less. This has resulted in a 33 per cent reduction in overall floor space required for the two new assembly lines. The significance of the new approach is exemplified by a workstation created to test a new boiler valve assembly. An existing fabricated bench measuring 1800 by 800mm was replaced with a Lean Tek workstation that was just 600 by 600mm and occupying a quarter of the floor space. The new workstation was designed so that equipment and jigs surrounding the test piece were supported and positioned correctly for optimum performance.
Lean Tek components are also reusable and interchangeable which means that modifications can be made at any time to make incremental improvements to overall assembly performance and accommodate changes in a specific process.
“Using Lean Tek we were able to modify the workstations and storage areas while we built the assembly line,” says David Hall. “With fabrications we would have had to finalise the design before we started and it would have been difficult to make changes.”
Although The Tube & Bracket Company designed and built the initial workstations and storage racks Baxi Heating UK soon had the confidence to start using the components on its own. Now the company keeps enough components in stock to build or modify its own installations. The Tube & Bracket Company supplies replacement components overnight from its warehouse and provides advice and support whenever required.
A further benefit of using Lean Tek is better housekeeping. Baxi Heating UK realised that airlines used to power tools could be run inside the tubular components to create a tidier working environment, eliminate the risk of snagging and remove potential dust traps. When a workstation needs to be repositioned the airline is simply disconnected and reconnected at the nearest available supply point using a short piece of tubing which protrudes from the bottom end of the frame. Optimising the working area also ensures there is no space to leave unwanted items lying around.
Baxi Heating UK plans to extend its lean manufacturing programme during 2006 and 2007 to include additional sections of the Burnley plant including more assembly lines and fabrication areas. As part of this process the company intends to introduce uniform modular workstations, trolleys and storage racks that can be used in the majority of applications with little or no modification. These will be supplemented with bespoke modular workstations to support special projects.
The company is still assessing data on the overall impact of its lean manufacturing programme and cannot quantify improvements achieved so far except for the saving in floor space. However, it has already noticed that the optimised working areas and new production processes have led to an increase in overall quality and reduction in defective finished products.
“Our aim is for a totally universal workstation to make any product we want,” says David Hall.
The Tube & Bracket Company creates adaptable handling, storage and display solutions for customers using the modular LeanTek system. This comprises coated steel piping, joints and fixtures that can be assembled into a variety of installations which can be modified or reconfigured quickly and easily using basic hand tools as requirements change. The company offers a complete range of consultancy, project management, design, build and component supply services.