Flexpipe Blog

Learn more about the Flexpipe system and its applications with Continous improvement, Kaizen Blitz, Lean Six Sigma, 5S and more.

Why you should use AGVs on your assembly line

Why you should use AGVs on your assembly line

An automated guided vehicle (AGV) is a computer-controlled vehicle used to carry or tow materials in a manufacturing facility. In this video, Bruce Buscher, vice-president of Daifuku’s AGV group, explains why AGVs are a great solution for your assembly line and how you can integrate them with your material handling system.

Borrowing Lean Manufacturing Concepts from the Automotive Industry

Borrowing Lean Manufacturing Concepts from the Automotive Industry

Jerry Collins – a mechanical engineer with 28 years of experience in the automotive industry – uses the pre-production stage as the critical first step to managing future production costs. It’s during this pre-production stage that Jerry uses modular piping systems as a way to layout his production floor and design material handling systems. This reduces costs and makes it easier to modify those handling systems (if needed) once full-scale production starts.

LISTEN: Audio Interview Jerry Collins
In this interview, Society of Cost Engineers founder Jerry Collins explains to Flexpipe project manager Temie Fessa how modular material handling systems have helped him maximize efficiency and profits.

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Find out how any company in any industry can benefit from using tube and joint systems in the pre-production stage as a way to manage costs.
The Origins of Lean Manufacturing
Lean manufacturing can trace its roots back to Henry Ford’s infamous Model T assembly line and the Toyota Production System (TPS) of the early twentieth century. Sometimes referred to as “lean production” or “just-in-time manufacturing”, lean manufacturing focuses on increasing production throughput while controlling costs and minimizing waste.

With lean manufacturing, companies can increase production throughput without sacrificing their cash position or purchasing excessive inventory. Unfortunately, a large number of companies use some lean concepts while never fully implementing others.
Using Modular Piping for a Mocked Assembly Line
Instead of using lean manufacturing principles during the pre-production stage, several companies only adopt lean concepts long after production has started. Unfortunately, this puts them in a read-and-react position where unforeseen changes in product designs force them to make haphazard and extremely costly adjustments. However, Jerry took an entirely different approach.

[caption id="attachment_38531" align="alignnone" width="1000"] A production line simulation using cardboard boxes. Source: Robert Simonis[/caption]

Jerry and his team used modular piping solutions to create a mockup front axle and rear axle assembly line for General Motors. As stated by Jerry, “long before we purchased any equipment, we created a whole facility with modular piping and decided early on how our material handling systems would be structured.” This included using tube and joint systems to create mock machines and equipment in order to create a visual presentation of both on the shop floor.


They also used modular piping to create trolleys to test the transit times between work cells, all the while looking for any possible obstructions. They then created temporary structures in order to simulate how future material handling systems would be positioned beside work cells, equipment, and machinery.
Making Immediate Adjustments within Minutes – Not Days or Weeks
[caption id="attachment_38508" align="alignnone" width="1440"] A dedicated material handling shop will allows you to modify quickly and on spot structures that need adjustments[/caption]

Jerry and his team of engineers chose modular piping solutions during the preproduction stage because of how easily it was to make simple changes. Some of the changes they made to their mock layout took mere minutes, something that is completely impossible to achieve with fixed material handling systems. As Jerry stated, “companies need to plan their material handling systems early on so they can maintain and improve upon their profits margins later.”

Ultimately, the tube and joint solutions replaced all of their larger, fixed-structure material handling frames. According to Jerry, making a single adjustment to their older material handling structures involved sending their heavy-duty racks to “a third party for welding and adjustments which could take weeks and months, whereas if you have a product like Flexpipe, it can be done in an afternoon.”

For Jerry and his team, adopting modular piping systems during the pre-production stage ensured everybody was comfortable with using the solution once production began. So, what are the inherent benefits of using modular piping during the initial pre-production stage?
Adopting Lean Principles in the Pre-Production Stage
Adopting lean concepts in the pre-production stage by using tube and joint systems has three primary benefits. First, it amalgamates the costs associated with laying out the entire production floor for equipment and machinery, while totaling the costs for standing structures, workbenches, shelving, trolleys, flow racks, boards, etc.

This provides companies with a complete picture of their costs. It also allows companies to decide upon how much actual square footage they need for manufacturing. They can avoid the extra costs of leasing/buying too much production space, or conversely, avoid the high costs and delays that come from not having enough production space.

Second, using modular piping solutions in pre-production helps to simplify workflow. Companies have a much easier time choosing which modular piping solutions are needed for all their T-shaped, U-shaped, and S or Z-type work cells. This allows them to maximize the transit times between production work cells, equipment, machinery, and other standing structures. It also helps them choose ideal locations for inventory and part storage.

Third, by adopting tube and joint systems in the pre-production stage, employees are better able to make quick modifications to standing structures and material handling systems once production begins. No more waiting on welding or having to send out heavy-duty racks to third-party suppliers for modifications that may take weeks or months. Instead, with tube and joint systems, the employees can make the changes themselves.

Modular piping is a product designed with lean concepts in mind. Making changes to modular material handling systems is faster, simpler, and far less expensive when compared to fixed-structure systems.
Simple Steps to Using Modular Piping During Pre-production
Again, any company in any industry can use the same approach. It simply comes down to using the following four steps.

1. Use Spaghetti Diagrams to Define Workflow

Spaghetti diagrams allow you to map your workflow so that you have a visual presentation of how physical parts move between part storage, material handling systems, work cells, equipment, and machinery. The goal is to have a sequential process where the parts move naturally and employees aren’t required to walk extremely long distances to move those parts to the next chain in the process.

2. Gather Information About Machinery & Equipment

Defining the physical size of equipment and machinery is an important aspect of maximizing available shop floor space. You’ll need to define the physical dimensions of equipment and machines and visualize how they will be laid out on the shop floor.

3. Define the Number of Material Handling Systems

Once you’ve defined the areas of your shop floor occupied by machinery and equipment, it becomes easy to determine the number of material handling systems you’ll require. To help you in the design of those systems, Flexpipe has created the Flexpipe Creator Extension, an innovative software-based solution that allows you to simplify your designs.

4. Simulate Transit Times

By now, your shop floor should be mocked up with locations for equipment, machinery, standing structures, work cells, and material handling systems. A proactive final step involves simulating transit times between each of these structures to ensure that there is sufficient space for employees to move parts and that the distances they travel aren’t too far.

Flexpipe: Make it Work For You
Flexpipe is an industry leader in tube and joint systems with a strong North American footprint. Long recognized as an innovator, Flexpipe is well-known for its affordable modular piping solutions (30% less expensive) and its customer-centric approach to customer service and after-sales support.

How to Establish and Sustain a Continuous Improvement Culture

How to Establish and Sustain a Continuous Improvement Culture

To many of those who have studied supply chain and the concepts pertaining to lean methodology, you probably view the layout of a warehouse or manufacturing center through a different set of lenses. You are able to visualize how inefficient processes are reducing output, ultimately leading to an uptick in money and time. This only hinders a facility’s ability to further expand and grow up on itself, but as operation and project managers are aware of - sometimes getting everyone on board with the “no waste” mindset, it is easier said than done!

[caption id="attachment_38004" align="alignnone" width="1195"] A hole has been made in the HDPE of this modular table to facilitate the accessibility of small frequently used parts.[/caption]

This is a common question that operations will ask themselves. How can I communicate, establish, and sustain a continuous improvement culture? How do I incorporate lean thinking into the mindset of all of my team’s daily tasks? This is where there is a difference between those on the floor and those in the office. While those in the office are familiar with the terminology and lean concepts, those on the floor do not always look at everyday tasks in the same manner. It is more or less viewed as “get the job done” as opposed to “how can we make this better?”.

[caption id="attachment_37603" align="alignnone" width="1440"] This multi-storage structure was designed from scratch by Chris in collaboration with the production team[/caption]


The question of “how can we make this better?” is not one that many associates on the floor will ask themselves as they believe management will handle problem-solving or, more often than not, they are not asked for input or ideas. This is the mindset that we seek to eradicate. Whenever there is an inefficient process, it should become obvious to everyone within the facility as to what aspects of the process are taking the most time and ultimately leading to wasteful activities. This is where management can be a bit blind as they think this task is rather difficult to achieve, but there is a saving grace and a middle man between management and associates - the continuous improvement technician.
How the Continuous Improvement Technician Can be a Vital Asset to Continuous Improvement
No one can communicate or fix a problem like the continuous improvement technician, considering that all day long he deals with one thing - maintenance. While those in management often look at problems from an analytical and theoretical perspective, the continuous improvement technician has key insight as to whether a goal is actually obtainable in order to make it a reality.

[caption id="attachment_37575" align="alignnone" width="1440"] This structure has been optimized to make room for an easily accessible wheelie bin[/caption]

More often than not the continuous improvement technician also has not gone to school or studied lean concepts and doesn’t look at it through the same lens, but rather through his own experience of working with machinery and equipment. The continuous improvement technician focuses on fixing things and making them better solely for the purposes of making things easier on himself and those on the floor as well as mitigating the risk of a future failure. Who wants to fix something over and over again when you could do it correctly the first time, right?

In an interview with President Container’s continuous improvement technician, Chris Pryce, we asked him to provide some key insight on how he goes about continuous improvement and instilling it among those who participate in the daily activities and work.

He started off by mentioning the first step in getting everyone on board is simply asking for their input. Whenever a team member has an idea, they have “kaizen suggestion sheets” available for the employees to fill out. This can be with any idea that they may have on making a process more efficient or better, considering much like the continuous improvement technician, they are the ones working with the equipment on a daily basis. These “kaizen suggestion sheets” are essentially the doorway into allowing associates on the floor to begin the process of eliminating the mindset of “just get the job done” to “how can I make this better?”. Ideas are then passed onto management to see if they are able to be theoretically conducted.

[caption id="attachment_37460" align="alignnone" width="1440"] The continuous improvement suggestion box.[/caption]

Communicating these needs are important but usually needs to be proven in a statistical manner. One of the most prominent questions that arise are ones such as “how will this cut cycle time?” or “how can this reduce waste while also increasing output?”. Usually, a continuous improvement team will run an analysis on the processes at hand and can aid in helping get an overall view of the statistical data needed to persuade management. Once this process is complete, it can then be passed onto maintenance to make it a reality.

[caption id="attachment_37595" align="alignnone" width="1440"] Chris Pryce, the continuous improvement technician with his colleague from the continuous improvement team Mana Sanchez[/caption]

Chris will then use his experience to transform the idea into an actual process on the floor, in which continuous improvement teams will then observe the results and document how the process either improved or what drawbacks may still be remaining. To simplify things, here is a breakdown of the process at hand in which was conducted in six easy steps:

1. Identify a problem or opportunity - This is where the kaizen suggestion sheets come into play. Utilizing these can be advantageous in the sense that they aid with the development of continuous improvement ideas. Allowing associates and employees to brainstorm and come up with concepts that can help the company is the first step in moving toward a lean culture.

2. Analyze the process - Once the sheets are passed onto management, this is where the continuous improvement team and management analyze the processes at hand along with the potential idea. This is conducted in a variety of ways, in which the gauge of what needs to be improved depends on the hindrance at hand.

3. Develop an optimal solution - This is where the brainstorming comes into play as to how to potentially implement the solution. Tools, equipment, materials, and manpower are roped into the equation of feasibility. Once all boxes are checked, it’s time to implement the solution.

4. Implement the solution - The continuous improvement technician, Chris, will then implement the solution with the tools and equipment at hand. He will redesign a process, implement a new piece of equipment, or any other idea that was presented.

5. Study the results and adjust - The trial period after implementation will be analyzed and studied by the continuous improvement team and management. This is key because it allows for statistical data to be presented to further demonstrate how well the idea is working.

6. Standardize the solution - If the idea works appropriately and is a success, the idea will then be implemented to all processes that require it and become a standardized practice of the company.

Without the collaboration between associates, maintenance, and management, none of this could have become a reality. This is where instilling continuous improvement culture is by far one of the most important attributes to iterate within any setting. Not all brilliant ideas need to come from the top. In fact, a lot of them come from the individuals working with the process or equipment the most. To put this into perspective, think about your daily tasks. How many times a day do you think of how you could make a task easier, simpler, or much more efficient? Being involved in a process can provide key insight on how to make it better.

[caption id="attachment_37599" align="alignnone" width="1440"] Clearly, this hyper-personalized structure requires effective collaboration and communication.[/caption]
Getting Everyone On Board with a Continuous Improvement Culture
As mentioned previously, some things are easier said than done - but it never hurts to try. There are a lot of companies that incorporate lean methodology and continuous improvement into their culture, and one of the most important advantages that they have instilled within their operations is that every idea matters/counts. It gets everyone thinking about how to further better operations as opposed to having an inner circle at the top trickling down every idea. To begin the process of implementing a continuous improvement culture, start out with something simple such as asking employees for recommendations on processes. Issue out sheets like Chris does and seek feedback on making aspects of the company better. Valuing the input of your associates as well as hearing feedback will allow you to start your operation’s journey from “get it done” to “let’s make it better”.

More often than not, companies are seeking “workarounds” and low-cost continuous improvement projects that present results. This is where utilizing Flexpipe can be a vital asset to your continuous improvement projects, as Flexpipe is able to construct low-cost solutions. Flexpipe allows you to model a pipe and joint modular structure and visualize how it would look and work even before being implemented. Utilizing Flexpipe can open doors to solutions that maybe did not seem possible without a substantial amount of capital to invest, but constructing these devices are both low cost and innovative, thus further driving your continuous improvement culture.

How continuous flow helps reduce waste

How continuous flow helps reduce waste

Continuous flow is one of the five principles of lean management, which aims to eliminate waste in production lines. By eliminating wasted time, it helps employees work more efficiently on a daily basis.

Engineer David Nobert is an expert on this subject. As a long-time Service Manager in Createch’s Operational Performance Improvement team, he has supported companies wishing to optimize their operational processes. In this video, he introduces you to the concept.

What is continuous flow?
Continuous flow is the process of creating an uninterrupted sequence of activities in the production line, which helps reduce downtime and waiting, which are both major sources of waste.

Essentially, this principle aims to set up manufacturing cells comprised of machines or workstations that produce one part at a time, step by step.

To be effective, continuous flow must take each of the three types of flow into consideration:

1– The flow of materials

2– The flow of information

3– The flow of human resources

Interruptions or slowdowns in any of these flows, such as an employee having to wait unnecessarily for parts, can hinder the entire production line.

Take a look at this video in which Paul Akers explains to us what is flow, what it does when it is not continuous and give us some tricks on give us some tricks on how to find solutions to bottlenecks.

How to improve performance with continuous flow
Continuous flow has several advantages. By eliminating downtime, it enables you to get goods to customers faster. This reduces your warehousing costs because you’ll require less space to store your products.

In addition, you can detect defects in the produced parts in advance. In fact, your employees can practically spot problems at the source before they become too significant and affect the entire production line, which improves your overall productivity and lowers your production costs.

Continuous flow is also known to increase versatility of your resources. As they will be capable of performing a large number of different tasks, they can deal with incidents more effectively.
How to ensure continuous flow is efficient
Since overhandling are the enemies of continuous flow, you must eliminate them from your process at all costs. Ideally, materials should circulate properly in your factory in order to prevent workstation supply delays.

When designing the continuous flow, also take employee feedback into account. Your employees are in the best position to put the theoretical principles of lean management into practice.


When designing work cells, give preference to U-cells. In addition to facilitating the supply of parts, this configuration provides notable space-saving and improves communication and teamwork between workers.

For a noticeable improvement in productivity, also make sure that your resources have all of their tools at their fingertips, and not stored away in drawers or chests.

Lastly, do not hesitate to assign an experienced employee or a team leader to each work unit. They will help their colleagues develop new skills, while giving them the desired pace of production.
Lean principles
Continuous flow will obviously help you reduce your waste. However, to completely eliminate the non-value-added activities of your production processes, you’ll need to apply each of the  five fundamental principles of lean:

Define the value.
Map the value stream.
Create and maintain a continuous flow.
Establish pull (which means that the production of the product or service is triggered by a customer need).
Seek perfection by constantly improving.

Lean is much more than a work methodology. It will generate a real change of mindset within your facilities. You’ll evolve from an individualistic culture to a collaborative culture for the greater good of your organization!

About our Lean expert - David Nobert

David Nobert is Manager of Services on Createch's Operational Performance Improvement Team. With more than 15 years of professional experience, he specializes in continuous improvement and lean manufacturing, among other things. He holds a Master's degree in Industrial Engineering with a thesis from Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and a Bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering from Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières.

Flexpipe Modular industrial pipe racking system can help you with implementing continuous improvement principles. Your team’s creativity can result in a 10% increase in productivity per year. It has been a proven system for more than 50 years now.


10 tips to reduce change resistance when introducing lean manufacturing

10 tips to reduce change resistance when introducing lean manufacturing

If you’re thinking of introducing lean manufacturing on the shop floor, you may have noticed that some production employees are hesitant to shift their habits. For example, they may say that their way of doing things has always generated good results or that the proposed modifications don’t apply to their current situation. Rest assured, your predicament is common. Most businesses in the manufacturing sector have faced this problem at one time or another. Thankfully, there are many methods to overcome resistance to change.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

1 – Explain the reasons behind the change

Begin by stating the motive(s) for the transition to your team. Some ideas could be to be more competitive, to face growing demand, or to serve your customers better. However, avoid basing your explanations solely on profitability. If the proposed changes are purely for financial reasons, you risk not getting everyone on board.
2 – Call upon an external training facilitator

Before beginning the Lean training process, plan to have the appropriate resources. Smaller businesses often retain the services of an external instructor. In the eyes of the staff, he can lend credibility to the process thanks to his professional expertise.

If you do use an external consultant, be sure the person overseeing the Lean process within your organization (the Lean sensei) works with the trainer to provide insight into the company’s situation. The sensei can also guide the consultant’s presentation and play a part in the discussions.
3 – Provide Basic Lean training to all personnel
[caption id="attachment_17846" align="alignnone" width="814"] Flexpipe assists in training while visiting an Adidas Plant in China.[/caption]


Before engaging in Lean practices, your employees will need to receive basic training on the Lean culture to understand it and speak its unique language. At the end of the process, they should be familiar with founding principles such as 5S and various types of wastes, and knowing what added value does and doesn’t consist of.

To win over those who are most reticent, trainers can show testimonials, pictures, and videos of companies who have gone through Lean improvements. Doing so is a lighter and more user-friendly means of convincing instead of text-heavy presentations that don’t always engage those in attendance.
4 – Visit other plants and speak with their employees
[caption id="attachment_17840" align="alignnone" width="814"] Flexpipe visited Lumenpulse in Longueuil, Québec.[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_17843" align="alignnone" width="814"] Flexpipe visited Lumenpulse in Longueuil, Québec.[/caption]

To convince employees of the benefits of the upcoming changes, suggest that they visit non-competitive plants, which recently undertook the same process as yours. If there is no one you can contact, search on LinkedIn or call organizations that do tours in Lean facilities, such as the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, the Gemba Academy, the Lean Enterprise Institute, or the Mouvement Québécois de la qualité.

While it may be challenging to get employees on-site, those who do go will become your most valued spokespeople. Why? Because they will have seen the transformation for themselves and, most importantly, talked with employees who carry out similar tasks. The latter will be able to explain how they experienced the change and the advantages of working in a Lean environment. Such discussions can reassure those who are particularly hesitant regarding the proposed adjustments.

Our team at Flexpipe recently toured the BRP snowmobile plant. After the visit, our five production team leaders exclaimed, “Wow, the production floor is open, airy, and clean. We would love to work in an environment like this.”
5 – Start with small, simple changes
[caption id="attachment_17858" align="alignnone" width="814"] Employees are showing their simple and resourceful self-constructed Shadow Board[/caption]

To display the physical benefits of the ongoing change, choose a high-visibility work cell which will serve as a model. This space will be the designated location to implement your first projects.

Avoid beginning with lengthy, costly, and complicated undertakings. Instead, make small tweaks with a big payoff, such as improving a substandard workstation. Once you’ve finished your first project, ask your employees to examine the issue that has been solved—they’ll have the proof right before their eyes.

Starting small means, you’ll be able to show the results to your team quickly and reduce the risk of failure.
6 – Ask employees to pitch ideas
[caption id="attachment_17834" align="alignnone" width="814"] Improvement Submission Board at Flexpipe.[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_18007" align="alignnone" width="814"] Improvement Submissions with a visual explanation.[/caption]

Getting employees involved is the surest way to overcome resistance to change—even if you provide Lean training. You will need to make them understand that the ownership of the transformations doesn’t solely rely on 1 or 2 people; instead, it’s company-wide ownership. That way, a Lean culture will permeate all echelons of the business.

One of the best ways to have team members participate in the transition is to gather their ideas by using a suggestion box or board. Your supervisors and those spearheading the improvement process can also help employees make recommendations on an ongoing basis.

Responding to all suggestions quickly is a robust approach to show that you open to change and innovation.
7 – Encourage employees to plan the entire project

While having ideas is undoubtedly a good thing, it’s even better to explore them. Encourage employees to lend a hand in crafting the solution by having them sketch out a problematic element in their environment and what could correct it.

If needed, the person leading the improvement process can help the staff realize and refine their ideas. Additionally, he could suggest a brainstorming session among team members to generate further options.
8 – Ask employees to help implement an idea

Once you’ve collected the various concepts and encouraged employees to play a role in devising the solution, why not ask them to continue the creation process by, for example, having them design their new lean manufacturing workstation? Besides feeling proud of his accomplishment, an employee can improve upon his workstation again in the future according to the company’s unique requirements, when need be.

One way to make ideas come to life more efficiently is to have tools and necessary materials on hand. A moonshine shop can be an exciting option to provide a creative setting.
9 – Celebrate the victories—and the defeats—resulting from the change

[caption id="attachment_17864" align="alignnone" width="814"] All the Flexpipe employees at the MPA Trade Show in Montreal.[/caption]

Your organization should celebrate both the highs and lows related to the change process. Some businesses offer a reward such as t-shirts, corporate items, or gift cards to participants. The gifts need not be expensive; they’re meant to recognize the employees’ efforts and encourage them to continue the Lean transformation endeavor.
10 – Keeping flexibility and agility in mind while recruiting
Even with the best intentions, sometimes it’s difficult to overcome resistance to change in some employees. When recruiting, make sure to emphasize flexibility and agility. Ask candidates to give you examples of changes they’ve gone through in past jobs and how they reacted to it—beware of those with a hardline stance or who seem insincere.



Flexpipe modular industrial pipe racking system can help you with implementing continuous improvement principles. Your team’s creativity can result in a 10% increase in productivity per year. It has been a proven system for more than 50 years now, which allows to reduce the 8 manufacturing wastes.

9 tips for a lean and secure plant after the COVID-19-imposed shutdown

9 tips for a lean and secure plant after the COVID-19-imposed shutdown

The time has come for many North American manufacturers to get back to work. The situation will obviously not be the same as it was before. Ways of doing things will have to be adjusted. In the coming weeks, plants will be implementing a host of new measures to comply with new government rules, particularly in terms of health and safety. If this is the case for your company, here are nine tips, based on the principles of continuous improvement (lean manufacturing) that will help you prepare for a safe return to work.

1– Distancing your employees from each other
It's not always easy to maintain the physical distance of 2-meter on an assembly line. Employees often work very close to each other and have little room to maneuver.

By using modular aluminum panels or those manufactured by Flexpipe, these new physical constraints can be more easily met. For example, you can add acrylic panels between employees working opposite each other or a tubular panel, with an acrylic interior, for employees working side by side. Acrylic is currently hard to find; you can therefore also hang mica canvases with eyelets on your structure or workstation that are attached to a steel or tubular frame.

In the event that you cannot modify your existing workstation, install large panels, either wheeled or fixed, between employees instead. Flexpipe offers several such modular panels. Why should you choose Flexpipe? You can take them down and reuse them to make a cart, for example, when the pandemic subsides.

[caption id="attachment_18908" align="alignnone" width="814"] Here are dividing panels for working side by side[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_18938" align="alignnone" width="814"] Here are dividing panels for face to face work.[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_18887" align="alignnone" width="814"] Here is a separator panel that will help create a distance between employees.[/caption]

2– Transforming your equipment into mobile units
Are your workstations and equipment on wheels? If they are not, take advantage of the current context to install them. It is an inexpensive investment that helps you increase the mobility of your work environment so that you can more easily comply with the rules of physical distancing. There are also various braking systems, such as foot brakes or total locks, to stabilize workstations.

For example, at Flexpipe, we have relocated part of the staff in our building reserved for assembly to our warehouse. This operation, aimed at reducing contact between employees, was simple to carry out since all our workstations are equipped with four- to six-swivel wheels.

[caption id="attachment_19443" align="alignnone" width="814"] Point of use tooling (POUT) with 4 swivels caster with total lock brake[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_19449" align="alignnone" width="814"] Steel Tool cabinet that was put on caster[/caption]
3– Strengthening your 5S program
Even though 5S can increase productivity and reduce the risk of accidents, it will also be very useful when disinfecting work tools.

By using the 5S program, you will clean up your workstations to leave only the tools your workforce uses regularly. For example, at Flexpipe, an employee disinfects work tools, but also door handles and kitchen equipment three times a day. Thanks to the 5S program, our disinfection manager is much more efficient because he does not waste time disinfecting unused tools.

Already have a 5S program in place? Remind your staff about the importance of being rigorous, especially during a pandemic.

[caption id="attachment_19453" align="alignnone" width="814"] The 5S system facilitates the disinfection of workstations.[/caption]

See how the facilitators of hygiene measures apply in the medical sector.
4– Reviewing your work procedures and standards
While your plant is reopening, why not take advantage to review your work procedures and standards in order to avoid, as much as possible, the sharing of tools and equipment? In addition to improving your processes, you will provide a safer environment for your employees.

Over the next few weeks, you may have to operate with limited staff. If you have never done so, don't hesitate to reassign one of your temporarily laid-off employees to update your work procedures and standards, especially if you are eligible for government assistance for businesses.

5– Using visual cues
Visual cues are quick and easy to set up. Using different coloured tape, draw lines on the ground to clearly delineate the corridors and different work areas in your plant. For example, at Flexpipe, we have created one-way corridors to prevent people from crossing each other.

Don't hesitate to use vinyl that sticks to the floor to clearly mark the 2-meter distance your staff must respect, especially in busy areas such as the cafeteria.
6– Managing the flow of materials to work cells
Consider identifying the materials, raw materials, work in process, and finished products within each work cell in your plant to limit contact between your employees and other stakeholders.

For example, use flow racks for your hardware parts. With this system, the inventory handler brings the parts to the back and the assembler takes them from the front, without any contact between the two.

Apply the same principle to your shipments. Clearly define the area in which the products are to be picked up, at a certain distance from your workspace.

7– Limiting unnecessary travel
The pandemic is one of the best reasons to encourage your employees to stay at their workstations. Indeed, unnecessary movement and travel is one of the most important wastes in value-added production because it does not add value.

At Flexpipe, we have put in place a policy to reduce the number of people walking around the plant.

Our assemblers receive their parts from a single employee who goes around the workstations with a trolley. If, for any reason (defective part, lost part, etc.), one of our assemblers needs new parts, they must stay at their station and notify their supervisor. To avoid a recurrence, the employee is asked to describe as accurately as possible the problem they just encountered while waiting for the new parts. Once the problem has been described, another employee will take over the task of finding a solution to the problem.

8– Setting up POUTs for sanitary facilities
Like most factories, you have probably purchased sanitary equipment (gloves, masks, disinfectants, etc.). To improve efficiency, set up Points of Use Tooling (POUTs), which are small workstations in which sanitary equipment is neatly stored and easily accessible, at strategic points in your plant.

Use this opportunity to post the company's policies on COVID-19 at each POUT.

9– Deliver elevated quality standards right from the beginning
Production defects are one of the most common wastes in value-added production. Especially in the context of coronavirus, positively encourage your employees to do quality work right from the beginning.

Why should you do this? Because a poorly assembled part is manipulated by many employees who will try to discover the problem and fix it. In contrast, impeccable work involves fewer people and less travel. You will limit the risks of propagation while increasing your productivity.

Circular manufacturing: The rules of the circle

Circular manufacturing: The rules of the circle

Circular manufacturing is a system for maximizing efficiency and reducing waste in a manufacturing site.

In this video, Robert Simonis, principal consultant at KCE Consulting, explains the four rules of this lean technique and how they can improve the flow of any work process.

Rule No. 1: The process should begin and end in the same location
For optimal flow, the work process should always end near the spot where it began. This ensures that as soon as an employee finishes a task, they can start the next one without wasting any time traveling from one end of the warehouse to the other. This usually means that the process will be laid out in a U shape.

[caption id="attachment_26415" align="alignnone" width="615"] People on the production line, the workstations, and the equipment should be organized to optimize the flow and minimize waste so that productivity can be maximized. Source: Assembly Mag and Bosch Rexroth Corp[/caption]

By contrast, a process that follows a straight line—while it might seem logical for the flow of materials—forces operators and material handlers to make a return trip to their starting point at the end of each cycle, which is a form of waste.
Rule No. 2: The process should not intersect
When a process starts and ends in the same location, there’s a risk that people or materials will cross paths somewhere along the line. It’s important to make sure that doesn’t happen, as much for efficiency as for safety reasons.

[caption id="attachment_26397" align="alignnone" width="1875"] Material handlers travel the width of the building, then return empty. Source: Robert Simonis[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_26394" align="alignnone" width="1897"] Empowered teams focused on optimizing their value stream. Source: Robert Simonis[/caption]

Wherever people or objects cross each other, slowdowns, bottlenecks, and accidents can happen—just like at an intersection. An intersecting production line also creates confusion about which direction to take, resulting in lost time and misplaced materials.

Creating a clear, unobstructed path forward is a key part of optimizing flow.
Rule No. 3: Make the circle smaller
Whereas the first two rules of circular manufacturing create a more logical process for operators, the third rule helps cut motion waste and transportation waste.

Imagine the production process as a circle; the larger the circle, the greater the distance employees have to travel from one point to another.

When work cells are placed close together and frequently used tools and parts are within reach, employees will spend less time walking and more time performing the tasks that add value to the end product.
Rule No. 4: The process should be circular, but not circle-shaped
Once the first three rules of circular manufacturing are implemented, the production line will not be shaped like a circle. Rather, the process will be U-shaped or resemble some variation of this form (for instance, a serpentine or Christmas tree pattern).

[caption id="attachment_26403" align="alignnone" width="2101"] The new process offers a closer option from beginning to end.[/caption]

Unlike a circle, these shapes create a short distance from one side of the path to the other, reducing total travel time.
How does circular manufacturing help with line balancing?
One of the main advantages of a circular configuration over a straight line is that it allows for greater flexibility when it comes to line balancing (leveling the workload across different stations on a production line to prevent bottlenecks).

A straight production line can be balanced only by redistributing tasks to stations to the right or left. But with a circular line, process steps can be redistributed to cells behind as well as to the right or left, providing more options for improving flow.
How does circular manufacturing benefit employees?
Employees who are accustomed to the straight-line model might be reluctant to try a circular workflow because it appears to be more demanding.

Rather than remaining at one station where they repeat the same task over and over, employees on a circular line switch between different tasks and operate more than one machine.

While this does require operators to learn new skills, the benefits are clear. Moving around and using different muscles is more ergonomically sound than repeating the same motion all day long, so operators tend to experience less fatigue and fewer injuries. Being involved with different stages of production also helps operators feel more engaged with their work.

Looking for evidence of the four rules of circular manufacturing—a workflow that starts and ends close together, does not intersect, reduces travel distances, and is circular but not a circle—is an excellent way to quickly assess whether any manufacturing site is set up efficiently and safely.

KCE Consulting LLC helps companies around the world improve their manufacturing, logistics, and business operations. Using a learn-by-doing model, KCE’s consultants train future leaders throughout the supply chain and provide solutions based on Kaizen, Kaikaku, lean process design, operational excellence, and more.

What is the role of the Waterspider in a lean manufacturing structure

What is the role of the Waterspider in a lean manufacturing structure

Water spider is a term that refers to a specific person whose main job is to take care of intermittent tasks such as supplying material at workstations.

Like during surgery the assisting person is like a Water Spider, they allow the surgeon to perform the added value task with no distraction.

[caption id="attachment_21927" align="alignnone" width="814"] The key to adding value tasks without distractions[/caption]

The rationale behind the water spider in the factory is similar where it allows the rest of the personnel to devote their full attention to added value tasks.

The Water Spider position is often confused with a simple material handler but in a lean manufacturing layout, a Water Spider must be intimate with the process or work cell they support, not just a pick-up-and-drop-off handler.
The tasks of a water Spider
Water Spider is the go-to person when there is an out-of-cycle task, for example:

supply raw materials and parts,
transport finished goods away from the work area,
remove waste,
move Kanban cards,
update status boards,
pack materials to be taken away,
replace tools
help with changeovers,
keep an eye on less experienced personnel.

[caption id="attachment_21939" align="alignnone" width="2260"] Water Spider is the go-to person in a well organized area[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_21933" align="alignnone" width="2260"] A water Spider must be intimate with the process or work cell they support[/caption]

Water Spider needs to make sure that the production flow is uninterrupted, and workers are only devote added value tasks.

When a particular worker doesn’t have to take care of auxiliary tasks, they can concentrate on their own productivity. They can become more efficient at adding value.

They should visit the workstations and operators in the same order and at similar intervals. The speed and frequency of their rounds should be dictated by the needs of the process.
The analogy with the insect
Water Spider is mizusumashi in Japanese and is often used even in English meaning “make water cleaner” or “purify water”.

[caption id="attachment_21930" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Water spiders are representing by Water beetle, notable for their divided eyes.[/caption]

Water spiders are representing by Water beetle, notable for their divided eyes and that dives into freshwater but does not stay into water. The water spider dives into the process to get close to the cell, even goes into the cell to do occasional relief work for operators. Specifically, the whirligig beetle is known for their habit of swimming rapidly in circles… and for their gregarious behaviour…and are also notable for their divided eyes which are believed to enable them to see both above and below water”.

And If employees don’t like the name why not using Point of use Provider.
How to boost productivity
While some floor managers might feel the urge to put a not-so-skilled worker in this position, this is not a good idea:

In order for a water spider to really boost productivity, they need to have a great working understanding of the whole process and need to be able to read the whole workspace.

Here are some important requirements for the job

They should be helpful at every workstation they service, and this requires knowledge of all processes and great work experience.

They should be first to notice when problems arise, and this requires good working relationships with management, to raise the issue.
They should help with the unexpected and know about the challenges faced in the day-to-day work at stations and this require to communicate well, gets along with everyone to help
They should move, lift, transport and do a lot of walking required for the water spider to be in good shape to walk, lift, and move material.

Learn more on how to maximize productivity with the Andon system. A great way to quickly pinpoint issues at manually operated workstations, improve response time, and reduce downtime is through an Andon system.
The Japanese Influence
[caption id="attachment_21921" align="alignnone" width="900"] Taiichi Ohno, the founder of the Lean Approach[/caption]

Some Senseis say that Water Spider role is a “rite of passage” to becoming a supervisor.

This is why it makes a lot of sense, to treat the position as a way to groom a future team leader, supervisor or manager, instead of a “go-fer” or “catch-all” job.
Elements of success

Both the water spider and the other workers' Everyone should have a clear idea of what the water spider is there to do and not to do. : Managers might view water spiders as auxiliary, and therefore secondary in priority.
This might lead to assigning them fill-in tasks, which might end up hurting the productivity of the whole facility. Don’t treat the water strider as a floater, or as an excess person.
Depending on the size of the work area and the material demands, a water spider may not perform that role full time but their rounds should still be made at regular intervals, though, to keep operators from running out of parts.
A clear process flow and defined work sequence (clear flowing water) is required to design the workload of the Water Spider position.
To begin, the role should be tested out on a small scale to get a feel for how to use this position. The key is structure. They must make the rounds in sync with the pace of production.
You might find that Water Spider might do too many empty rounds at first and feel that there is the inefficiency to work on. However, you should try to optimize the system first not the water spider time. It can be deemed acceptable as long as the water spider manages to help boost the efficiency of the whole operation.

Read on to learn how a modular pipe handling system helped Hologic increase its productivity by 25%.
Extra recommendations!
[caption id="attachment_22003" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Spaghetti diagram[/caption]

For every workstation on the assembly line create a spaghetti diagram of the stock replenishment path
Work on small and regular milk runs
Clock the water spider with a pedometer to log the typical distance travel and ask how this could be improved
Supermarket should be not too far from the assembly line. There may be more than one supermarket for longer lines.
An exhausted water spider is a good sign that something is wrong. And at this point, he might now be able to see clearly.

You should be able to see how having a well-functioning water spider can boost overall efficiency and potentially calculate an ROI to present to management. Furthermore, isolating the auxiliary tasks mostly transportation and movement waste in a single place will help to examine them and possibly reduce or eliminate them.

Flexpipe Modular industrial pipe racking system can help you with implementing continuous improvement principles. Your team’s creativity can result in a 10% increase in productivity per year. It has been a proven system for more than 50 years now.

See how the modular system improve operational efficiency while saving time in manufacturing processes at Waterax.


How to deal with motion waste

How to deal with motion waste

One of the eight types of waste identified in lean methodology, motion waste is any movement during a work process that does not add value to the customer. This includes actions such as walking, bending, lifting, and reaching that slow down the process and make the task more difficult for the operator.

As Shoplogix’s Martin Boersema explains in this video, motion waste tends to be the most common type of waste in a work cell—but it is relatively easy to correct through continuous improvement initiatives such as kaizen events.

How to identify motion waste
To identify motion waste, observe the work process and take note of any movement that seems to be slowing things down. Maybe the operator has to walk across the shop to read a set of instructions, or they spend several seconds fiddling with a part.

[caption id="attachment_26243" align="alignnone" width="2560"] One of the eight types of waste identified in lean methodology, motion waste is any movement during a work process that does not add value to the customer.[/caption]

Ask questions to find out why these extra movements are taking place. Once you determine the cause of the waste, you’ll be able to come up with solutions.It’s helpful to conduct a time study on the work process to find out exactly how long it takes to execute each step. If there is fluctuation in the time it takes to perform a particular task—maybe sometimes it takes 30 seconds, but other times it takes 60 seconds—motion waste might be the culprit.
Common types of motion waste
Types of motion waste vary depending on the work process. In an injection molding cell, for example, the operator may have trouble keeping up with the machine’s production cycle if they have to walk several feet away from their workstation to retrieve the parts they need.

Or perhaps they can still keep pace with the machine, but the seconds they spend walking could be better spent on a task that adds value, such as performing an inspection.

In an assembly cell, where the work is performed manually, the efficiency of the process depends on how easily the operator can carry out each step. Small issues might slow down the work—maybe they have to fiddle with a part to get it to fit inside its nest, or they have to rotate their body to reach the tools they need.

If the workspace isn’t organized efficiently, employees will wind up moving around as they search for missing parts, tools, or information.

[caption id="attachment_26252" align="alignnone" width="1920"] If the workspace isn’t organized efficiently, employees will wind up moving around as they search for missing parts, tools, or information.[/caption]
How to reduce motion waste
In many cases, motion waste can be reduced by making necessary equipment more accessible to the operator. This might mean replacing a large cabinet with a tool cart that can be wheeled closer to the operator’s workstation, or perhaps substituting a large bin with several smaller bins so that the operator doesn’t have to reach far inside to retrieve the part they need.

To eliminate motion waste related to searching, it’s important to ensure that all equipment is stored in the right place and properly labeled; there should also be an effective communication system in place. Visual management is a lean technique that can help with this.

Other types of bottlenecks will require their own targeted solution. If an operator is struggling to fit a part inside its nest, the nest might need to be redesigned for a better fit. If an operator has to manually insert a part at one end of a machine and then eject it at the other end, it might be worth examining whether one of those tasks can be automated.

[caption id="attachment_26258" align="alignnone" width="815"] In many cases, motion waste can be reduced by making necessary equipment more accessible to the operator.[/caption]
How motion waste impacts employees
Employees who have to make a lot of unnecessary movements while performing a task often experience fatigue, sore muscles, and sometimes even injury. Some people may not realize the extent to which excessive movement affects them; they might think that a second or two of bending or lifting isn’t a big deal.

However, when solutions are implemented to reduce motion waste, most employees notice that they are less tired, especially at the end of the work week.

[caption id="attachment_26249" align="alignnone" width="815"] To eliminate motion waste related to searching, it’s important to ensure that all equipment is stored in the right place and properly labeled[/caption]

Part of continuous improvement is training employees to spot motion waste and working together to find the right solutions, but it’s also essential to educate managers about the problem.

Ultimately, they will be the ones implementing the improvements that will make a significant difference in their employees’ quality of life.

About Shoplogix
With its industry-leading smart factory platform, Shoplogix helps manufacturers reduce operating costs and maximize profitability by unlocking hidden production performance improvements. Headquartered in Oakville, Ontario, the company has an international presence, with offices around the globe.

Tips for a successful kaizen event

Tips for a successful kaizen event

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “continuous improvement,” and it refers to the incremental steps taken to create a more efficient, optimized workplace. As the concept of kaizen has gained popularity in North America, many companies have started holding kaizen events to improve specific areas or processes, as Shoplogix’s Martin Boersema explains in this video.

What is a kaizen event?

The goal of a kaizen event is to make improvements to a particular area or process within a business. In the manufacturing sector, this involves a kaizen facilitator meeting with operators and supervisors, usually over a few days. The aim is to analyze the current process and identify potential improvements.

How to lead a successful kaizen event

If you’re facilitating a kaizen event, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t try to solve the problem yourself.
To understand the problem and identify the right solutions, speak with the people most familiar with the process you’re analyzing: the operators. Ask them what problems they deal with on the job every day. Their answers will help you determine the appropriate improvements.
Choose your team carefully.
Most participants in your kaizen event should be directly involved in the process you’re reviewing. Include the operators, but also the supervisor, as they will be the one overseeing any changes you decide to make. It’s also a good idea to invite an employee who is not involved in the process—they can often provide a fresh perspective on the problem at hand.
Understand the company’s goals.
As leader, you’re responsible for ensuring that any proposed changes are in line with the company’s strategic objectives. This means finding a balance between optimization and what the company needs. For instance, you might find a way for an assembly line to produce 300 parts per hour, but if only 200 parts per hour are required, this “improvement” may not be necessary.

How to handle reluctant participants
Some employees may be reluctant to participate in a kaizen event. They may feel that their work process is fine the way it is. Or, they may have reported problems with their work process in the past and feel frustrated that no one listened to them. They may think the kaizen event isn’t going to solve anything.

The best way to deal with reluctant employees is to talk with them on the shop floor. Ask them to walk you through their work process and what problems they have with it. If there’s room for improvement, it will most likely come to light during your discussion.


The key is to have these conversations at the worksite, not in a classroom. The kaizen event participants will be able to show you the challenges they struggle with, and you’ll get a more complete picture of the situation.
A common pitfall of kaizen events

Let’s say you lead a successful kaizen event that yields a list of useful improvements to be made and a plan for how to implement them. But then, weeks later, you discover that the work process has reverted to its former inefficient state. Why? It turns out that the manager wasn’t on board with the changes.

When leading a kaizen event, you must make sure the people in charge approve of the proposed changes. They will be the ones deciding whether to follow through on your recommendations, so be sure to take the time to explain how the changes will benefit them, their team, and the company as a whole.
The impact of a successful kaizen event
The improvements that come out of a kaizen event will ultimately lead to a better return on investment for the company. Small improvements (5S activities, for example) may not have a major impact on the bottom line in and of themselves, but over time, they add up.

For the employees, however, even small changes tend to have an immediate impact: suddenly, they have a solution to a problem they’ve been struggling with, in some cases for a long time. In this way, kaizen events often lead to happier, more engaged employees.

About Shoplogix
With its industry-leading smart factory platform, Shoplogix helps manufacturers reduce operating costs and maximize profitability by unlocking hidden production performance improvements. Headquartered in Oakville, Ontario, the company has an international presence, with offices around the globe.


Flexpipe Modular industrial pipe racking system can help you with implementing continuous improvement principles. Your team’s creativity can result in a 10% increase in productivity per year. It has been a proven system for more than 50 years now.

See how the modular system can increase production efficiency by 25% in manufacturing processes at Hologic.