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How to handle lean

Lean manufacturing offers significant potential for manufacturers to improve performance, increase efficiency and optimise processes. Most often this involves making changes to the handling and storage of components, sub-assemblies and finished products to create ergonomic working environments that reduce the number of actions needed to complete a task or process. Manufacturers can then be more responsive to changing conditions and offer greater flexibility to their customers. They can shorten the value chain, invoice earlier, reduce inventory and save costs.

Central to the philosophy is the ability to create production environments matched to specific requirements where processes are optimised. An increasingly popular way to support lean manufacturing is with modular storage and handling systems such as Trilogiq’s Graphit system, available in the UK from The Tube & Bracket Company. These comprise tubing, connectors and accessories that can be assembled into structures such as live storage, carts, trolleys and ergonomic workstations.

Modular systems reduce production line design costs because components are inexpensive, interchangeable and reusable. This eliminates the need for bespoke facilities where decisions are made at the beginning of lengthy lead time and subsequent changes can be expensive. Using modular systems a solution can be devised and created to support the specific process and, crucially, be reconfigured quickly and easily whenever the requirement evolves or improvements are identified. Typical modular installations will reduce the footprint of the working area, be lighter and be faster to implement than structures or solutions fabricated with traditional materials.

One Tube & Bracket Company customer upgraded and improved manufacturing processes on two UK sites in days rather than weeks using modular line-side racks. Project engineers incorporated modular storage solutions that were not readily available off-the-shelf into individual work cells to maximise efficiency. This improved ergonomic work areas, reduced operative movement and supported the introduction of “just-in-time” component supply.

Lean manufacturing productivity is maximised because production environments are optimised to ensure steady flow of materials. At the line-side, for example, live storage can be configured so that replenishment and retrieval tasks are maintained without disrupting production areas. Working areas are designed with components, tools and equipment within easy reach. Trolleys and carts are matched to the specific handling requirement.

One company reduced the number of line-side containers by 58 per cent in the final assembly area by integrating modular live storage racks with existing permanent fixtures. The use of reinforced roller track promoted first-in-first-out stock rotation and allowed parts delivery to the exact point of use rather than to the line end. The company also reduced stock levels.

A fundamental aim of lean manufacturing is continuous improvement. In conventional production the investment in resources and infrastructure often leads to rigid processes where change is only justified if the projected improvement is significant. Smaller improvements are delayed because there is insufficient business case. Lean manufacturing relies on changes being implemented whenever required. Any improvement, however small, can be introduced whenever its potential has been identified. Over time these incremental changes can lead to significant improvements.

One electronics manufacturer uses hundreds of modular storage racks and modifies them frequently to meet to changes in operations. A small stock of components, supplemented by overnight delivery, allows the company to respond quickly to changing requirements and meet performance targets. The company estimates its TAKT time – a key performance measure – improved by around 20 per cent.

Business priorities change and the ability to respond is vital. Implicit in lean manufacturing is the ability to create are adapt installations quickly and easily to support process change. With modular systems like Graphit rapid implementation is possible because facilities are created from standard components. Almost any design that can be visualised can be created and there is no need to wait for suppliers to prepare bespoke structure. Existing installations can be modified or reconfigured and components can be reused to extend the investment and reduce long-term cost of ownership.

A manufacturer accommodated a massive increase in workloads by installing new live storage racks built from modular components. The company calculated that 50 new storage racks in two configurations were required in a 1000 square metre area. Modifications to existing fabricated storage racks would have been costly and time-consuming because they were being used to support production. The project was completed by within a tight four week deadline.

Another major consideration is the creation of ergonomic working environments to promote workspace efficiency and productivity. Modular handling and storage systems allow users to create ergonomic installations that require fewer and shorter movements to access, retrieve and replace a component or assembly than traditional working environments. These small savings contribute to improved productivity while reducing the risks associated with repetitive or unnecessary handling.

Modular storage promotes low total lifetime cost of ownership because components are inexpensive and reusable. The initial investment is not lost when the installation is adapted. Bespoke solutions, on the other hand, cannot always be modified easily without additional cost even if leaving them in their original configuration might compromise operational efficiency, take up too much floor space or lead to work areas with reduced ergonomic performance. Temporary modular solutions are also justifiable because components can be reused once a project is completed.

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