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Material Flow : A Key Element in Circular Manufacturing

Material Flow : A Key Element in Circular Manufacturing

Circular manufacturing is a system for maximizing system flow and productivity while reducing waste in a manufacturing or logistics site.

In this video, Robert Simonis, principal consultant at KCE Consulting, explains how material flow is a key element in circular manufacturing.


Implementing Waterspider
Waterspider, or mizusumashi,  is a term that refers to a specific person whose main job is to take care of tasks such as supplying material at workstations, cells, or the point of use. The material handlers allow the other workers to carry out their value-added tasks without distraction, thus enhancing the productivity of the chain and the accomplishment of standardized work in standard time.

Implementing a waterspider system takes time, it’s a process of continuous improvement that needs constant observation, testing and adapting to create the standardized work that ensures the right material at the right time and right place.
How Material Flow Enhances Productivity
Once the rhythm of the waterspider’s activities has been established and mastered, the  benefits come into play: it brings a steady pace to the production process, regulating the workflow and avoiding the vicious cycle of sprints and rest. The workers benefit from steady work, less stress and are therefore able to keep their level of energy higher.

[caption id="attachment_27360" align="alignnone" width="2260"] Water Spider is the go-to person in a well-organized area[/caption]

Typically, keeping 2 hours or less of material in the cell and resupplying every hour is optimal. It gives the production process a buffer of an hour, which makes it possible to compensate when a production cycle is a few minutes early or late because of unexpected problems.  Steady resupply also standardizes and minimizes the space needed for material in the workspace, and helps minimize the operator cycle time.

The buffer makes it possible to cover for variation caused by the material delivery, scrap, quality, and other sources.  The operator never has to wait for material or take time to signal for material resupply and is able to optimize productivity.
Controlling How Much Material is in the Cell Helps Reduce How Much Space is Needed
[caption id="attachment_27374" align="alignnone" width="2560"] The traditional three-bin kanban system[/caption]

To control how much material is in the cell, a steady resupply cycle has to be established.

The traditional three-bin kanban system is a good way to optimize circular manufacturing. In this system, there is:

One bin the operator is working out of;
One bin that’s spare;
One bin that’s in the process of being refilled.

Often linked to the manufacturing processes, this system helps to control inventory at the point of use and ensure steady material flow, both into and out of the different steps of the production chain.
Working in Batch Mode

Going back to batch mode is often a reflex when implementing a circular manufacturing system because workers tend to worry they’ll have to deal with interruptions caused by a lack of material or parts.

What many operators don’t realize is that in batch mode, if the material handling system is not optimized, they’ll end up with even more downtime. The challenge will then be to fix the handling system at the same time as the cell.

Either way, material, and material handling have to be synchronized with the change in the cell.
Prototyping the Production Line to Optimize Material Flow
Depending on the technology available and the context, 3 levels of prototyping can be established:

First, drawing a layout of the factory on paper, cutting the different parts of the layout and moving things around to determine and see the options to consider.
Then, creating a 2-dimensional model using chairs, tables or boxes will allow the operator to see it and analyze the options more seriously.
The final phase of the prototyping process would be to use a full 3D model that covers both height and depth to allow practice with the material handler, maintenance, management, and others.

Either way, to facilitate the prototyping process, the best-case scenario is when the equipment is mobile and relatively small so the real pieces can be moved around easily.

Mr. Simonis relates he once visited a manufacturer that had 1800 sewing machines. Because each machine was independent, they were able to move them around easily. They physically changed, tested and adapted the layout with the actual equipment -thanks to the mobile quality of the machines-, which made the process flow a lot easier.
A Common Fear When Bringing Waterspider to a Production Line
[caption id="attachment_27354" align="alignnone" width="2260"] The water Spider must be intimate with the process or work cell they support[/caption]

Typically, management fears that implementing the water spider system is going to require a lot more labor -they usually expect that they’ll need twice as many guys!

The best way to prove to them that it won’t be the case is to show them.

Quoting Benjamin Franklin’s vastly imputed saying “Tell Me and I Forget, Teach Me and I May Remember, Involve Me and I Learn”, Mr. Simonis mentions that no matter what the fears are, if you get people to actually try out material handling solutions and options, it solves a lot of problems and answers a lot of questions.

Brainstorming is a good way to start, but trystorming has to follow quickly. Testing out ideas and trying options is the most effective way to determine the best solution for process optimization.
Trystorming to Improve the Production Process
There’s nothing like concrete experience to enhance people’s perspective and creativity. Trystorming can start with dividing the production process into smaller steps, then desiccating the main stages, and finally trying different options and layouts.

Trying out the system and seeing what works and what doesn’t will allow operators to learn more from the designing phase and assimilate the new processes more easily. At a facility level, creating one cell and getting people used to doing it will ensure that they learn from the testing phase.

These steps will allow for the best practice to be put in place, improving the material handling flow and making the circular manufacturing process as efficient as it can be!

About our Lean expert - Robert Simonis

Robert H. Simonis is the senior consultant at KCE Consulting LLC. A recognized lean enterprise expert and sought-after speaker and writer, he has over 25 years of experience in automotive, electronics, machining, logistics, and complex assembly operations.

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WHAT CAN FLEXPIPE DO TO OPTIMIZE YOUR PLANT EFFICIENCY?
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 shadow boards help you be more competitive

How shadow boards help you be more competitive

As a manufacturer, one of your main advantages is to eliminate wastes, in other words, actions that are unnecessary and provide no added value. Shadow boards are an excellent means of implementing continuous improvement principles because their purpose is to eliminate the 8 manufacturing wastes. This article will give you tips on how to sort your tools and create order so you can efficiently carry out daily tasks, regardless of the nature of your work.

According to the 5 S method
According to the 5S method, shadow boards are commonly used to visually manage tools that are frequently utilized during the day. It's a very appealing approach as you can apply it to almost any environment!
A shadow board is a visual method of stocking items by means of a filled-in contour of every one of them in a colored backdrop to show where the tool should be put back after each use.
It's in the second S: SET IN ORDER or "Seiton" in Japanese, that the shadow boards come in. The exact meaning of this term is to lay out all objects and put each one in its place. Establishing a designated location for every tool or piece of equipment will help you find what you need when you need it.

Image from 5S Supply, Tool Tracer™ Tool Shadow's expert to stay organized.
 

Download the PDF version of our 5S method chart.

 

 

A place for everything and everything in its place
You can increase efficiency by significantly reducing wastes that provide no added value, such as time lost looking for a screwdriver a broom or a pair of scissors.
Good to know - For optimal visual management of your tools and parts, here are the 3 essential elements of a shadow board:

ID tag
Color code
Tool's shadow

Typically, a pegboard is the shadow board's foundation on which is painted the contour or shadow of the item to be hooked on the board. Shadow boards are an efficient way to create a visual impact thanks to the colored background. You can put tools or production items on them, such as dies or prototypes, for example.

 
The shadow board above is a kitting cart that one of our customers uses with its supplier to avoid overpackaging and waste materials on the production line.

By sending these boxes back to the supplier, the latter can simply insert all the items ordered by the customer in them again without having to restock packaging materials himself.

In addition to being environmentally friendly, this method prevents the supplier from forgetting any items and makes order prep easier. The color coding calls attention to missing parts.
 
Make your own shadow board

3 simple steps to build a shadow board to meet your needs
This section of the article will provide you with tips as well as steps involved in building the type of shadow board that will be most effective and profitable for your business needs.

Step 1 - decide which tools you need
First, gather all your tools to decide which ones will go on the shadow board. To help you choose those needed to carry out your tasks, think of the setting in a hospital's operating room. A surgeon should never have more than what is required to operate on the patient nor have to hunt around for a specific scalpel!

Tip : If you have trouble figuring out what you use in a typical workday, put in a box all the tools and parts that you utilize as the day progresses. As such, you'll have a better idea of what's essential in your workstation.

To avoid unnecessary steps, you should always position your tools as close as possible in your workstation. Normally, these would correspond to those which you use within the hour or during the workday. In an office setting, the same principle applies: Items that are regularly utilized should be placed on the desk.
Use this chart to decide if the tool in question should go on a shadow board or not.

Step 2 - Decide on the type of panel and its location
Once you've decided on the tools that should be within reach, now it's time to choose the material. The number of items and the shadow board's location is two determining factors at this step in the process.
Here are some examples of our customer's shadow boards as a source of inspiration. Some chose to use materials they already had on hand, while others opted for laser cut-outs in foam panels.

Photo credit: Trilogiq

Photo credit: Trilogiq
If this type of shadow board interests you, we highly recommend its manufacturer - who also happens to be one of our suppliers: OSAAP AMERICA.
This Maine-based company, in the US, produce boards made of various types of foam, most with laser cut-outs for added precision. Curious to see how they do it? Take a look.
 
Types of pegboard
HIGH DENSITY POLYETHYLENE (HDPE)
High density polyethylene is a 1/4 inch thick white plastic surface. This type of material is rigid, the high density of this product makes it shatterproof and ultra durable. This surface is easily cut with a decent saw. For more information, refer to product D-PEGW-481/4 on the online store.

MASONITE
Masonite pegboards are the most common on the market. They can generally be found in hardware stores or home improvement big-box stores. The panels are available at low cost and have either 1/8-inch holes or 1/4-inch holes for more robust use.
Masonite panels are not intended to hold heavy tools, such as drills. Doing so would cause the panel to warp and eventually rip. Also, with time, the holes in the panels can sustain damage from frequent hook changes.

The image below shows various types of hooks that you can use to hang your tools

Photo credit: Triton Products
Tip: At Flexpipe, we simply use screws with bolts for added strength.
 

METAL
Long-lasting, metal is easy to clean and is one of the most solid materials on the market. It also gives the pegboard a stylish look. It's worth keeping in mind that metal boards are the most expensive option and their weight makes them difficult to buy in larger sizes.
Additionally, if the air is humid, be sure to use stainless steel to avoid rust issues. Finally, remember that metal conducts electricity, so take precautionary measures to provide your employees with a safe work environment.

 

ACRYLIC
Plastic or polymer acrylic pegboards offer unparalleled versatility and reliability. They are much lighter than their Masonite and metal counterparts.
Their durability is unbeatable, given that they are rustproof, will not crack or warp. This type of board can withstand heavy loads.

Each type of material has its advantages and drawbacks; evaluate them all to find the best for your needs.

You can also make your shadow boards out of foam if, for example, you need to store or handle fragile parts a production line. You'll notice that most of these shadow boards are placed on a wheel-mounted cart or rack.
If you decide to build a foam shadow board, there are several grades of foam from which to choose. On the other hand, the more the foam is porous, the more difficult it will be to cut, as Ethafoam for example. There are greater risks of it disintegrating where the knife penetrated it, consequently shortening its life span.
Type-A foam panels, such as Crosslink, are of better quality thanks to their high density. This type of foam will protect fragile parts more effectively.
You can also use materials you already have on hand in your plant to build your shadow board. Some of our customers used MDF panels, whereas others decided on steel panels. A little creativity mixed with a desire to reuse existing materials can give pretty impressive results!
Tip: Regardless of the type of material you choose for the shadow board, we suggest dividing it into sections. It will be much easier to alter only a portion of the entire board, instead of the whole thing, should you have to move tools around.
 
Step 3 - draw the outline of your tools
To begin, set your tools on the panel to use up space in the most optimal way. This task may be painstaking as you'll have to try a few configurations before finding the ideal one.

Be sure to properly align all tools. We recommend grouping them by families: adjustable wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers, drill bits, etc. After, draw the tools' outlines at their designated location on the panel.
To conclude, all that's left to do is to place the hooks and hang your tools. Take a picture of the final product and show your project to the rest of the team so everyone can use this work method!
 
Benefits of using a shadow board
In short, implementing the 5S system will have a positive effect on your operations, such as:

Reduced costs as you'll only use the tools and material that are necessary
Improved quality
A more secure work environment
Increased productivity
Increased employee satisfaction regarding their designated tasks

Whether the shadow board is in an office setting or for workstations in the production line, everyone will come out a winner. Don't wait another second before trying one!

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.

Pipes and joints systems vs. T-slot aluminium profiles: Comparing modular systems

Pipes and joints systems vs. T-slot aluminium profiles: Comparing modular systems

Many engineers are making the mistake of using T-slot aluminum extrusions everywhere on their production line. Here's how to avoid creating overkill, overbuilt, and overpaid structures.

This guide will cover the following:

What Are the Advantages of Each System?
How to Choose a Modular Systems?
What Type of Structure do You Want to Build?
What Loading Capacity Do You Need?
Does Your Structure Will Evolve Over Time?
What's Your Budget?
Is the Aesthetics a Priority?
Takeaway

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What Are the Advantages of Each System?
These modular systems should not be considered competitors because they have their unique advantages and should be used in deferent situations. Because T-slot aluminum constructions are sturdier and more precise, they are an obvious choice for production systems involving robotics and automation. On the other hand, the pipe and joints system, perfectly embody the Lean Manufacturing concept. It's simple to assemble and customize while also been more affordable.

Pipes and Joints

Much lower pricing
Structures can be assembled faster
Easy to design and assemble
Order online
Structures can be easily tested, improved and adapted for lean purposes

T-slot Aluminum Extrusions

Heavier load/charging capacity
Make sturdier structures that can take rapid and repetitive movements
Modern and sleek style 
More precision
Ideal for jigs and robotics
More components and parts to integrate robotics and automation systems

How to Choose a Modular Systems?
When analyzing different modular system options to implement or adapt a production line, a lot must be considered. Maximizing a production floor's efficiency, ensuring employees are working in a safe, ergonomic manner, and ensuring the production blueprint can be adapted over time are key points to keep in mind throughout the conceptualization process.

While both T-slot aluminum profiles such as 80/20's or Vention's and tubular systems like Flexpipe's offer great solutions to manufacturers and design engineers. The products have unique characteristics that will influence how they will be of better use in a production context.

What Type of Structure do You Want to Build?
Because T-slot aluminum constructions are sturdier, they are an obvious choice for production systems involving robotics and automation. 

They are made with refined equipment that can offer very tight tolerances. Their durable and resistant nature can also support a variety of robotic applications facing rapid and repetitive movement, such as:

Framing for robotic mounting structures
Jigs and fixtures
Automation systems
High precision conveyor systems or assembly station

It's A Matter of High Precision
There is an intubation space of 1 inch in the tubular system when you insert the pipes into the fittings -even if the tubes should be fully inserted. This remaining space makes the assembly process easier by giving a margin of error for small cutting or design mistakes. 

While this detail might come in handy in some contexts, the facts remain: tubular structures are not as precise as aluminum framing systems. 
The tubes and fittings structures are more adapted to other types of use. 
Here are a few examples of various material handling systems that would be more efficiently built with pipes and joints than aluminum extrusions.  

It would be considered "overkill, overbuilt and overpaid" if you consider building the following structure with aluminum extrusions:

Flow racks 

Return lines for empty containers to ensure continuous production. 
Supermarket racks to have stock nearby.
L-shaped flow racks for the proximity of parts.
One-piece flow conveyor stations for lean manufacturing.
Gravity-fed workstations to free up floor space.

For more information on flow racks, check out this article on the most common types of modular gravity flow racks and how they can increase production line efficiency.

Racks

Adaptable racks.
Shelving with added value. 
WIP racks to reduce defects.
Storage racks are intended as a poka-yoke.

For more information on racks, check out this guide on the most popular modular industrial racks and shelving systems.

Workstations and workbenches 

U-Cell stations will improve your lead time. 
Ergonomic stand-up stations and work centers are great to have task-relevant information nearby. 
Personalized adjustable working tables are perfect to meet your worker's needs. 
ESD workstations to reduce defects.

For more information on workstations and workbenches, check out this guide on the different types of custom-made industrial workstations & workbenches.

Modular boards

Point-of-use or shadow boards.
Rotating cube and 8-faced boards.
Meeting space.
1, 2, 3, or 4 sided boards.

For more information on boards, check out these types of modular boards.

Carts

Kitting carts.
Tuggable carts.
WIP carts
Warehouse picking carts.
Truck carts.

For more information on carts, check out this guide on the popular types of carts for industrial material handling.

What Loading Capacity Do You Need?
The most robust structures made with the pipe and joint systems can support a maximum charge of 2000 pounds!

Pipe and joint systems like Flexpipe mostly use 28 mm OD pipes, with or without plastic coatings. The thickness of the pipes generally varies between 1 and 2 mm, providing various solidity levels which can be adapted to the project's specifications. But since the tube's diameter stays the same, Flexpipe structures will never be as strong as aluminum extrusions structures. The metal joints and various fasteners also contribute to the strength of the frame.

For more information on loading capacities, check out this guide created to help you calculate the modular structures' loading capacity.

Being able to choose between different sizes of profiles ranging from 20 millimeters square to as large as 180 by 360 millimeters makes t-slot profiles a perfect option for projects involving very heavy loads.

T-slotted aluminum profiles are offered in different types and sizes, the most popular being the 6063-T5, often ranging from 1 X 1" to 1,5 X 1,5" inches. The choices in inch or millimeter square make it an excellent choice for light to heavy-duty framing projects.

According to this article on Formaspace, the biggest aluminum profiles used to make 80/20 extruded frames carry very heavy charges: 6105-T5 aluminum alloy has a tensile strength of 35,000 lbs. per square inch! 

Does Your Structure Will Evolve Over Time?
Because of the lower costs of pipes and fittings "modular systems" and the simplicity of the tubular approach, tests can be carried out more easily before implementing new structures. Manufacturers can, therefore, quickly reconfigure a wide range of assembly line components based on feedback, with minimal capital outlay. 

Engineers can spend more time brainstorming and continually optimizing assembly processes. Rather than designing each structure from scratch, resulting in higher employee satisfaction and optimization of the production process!

Because pipes and fittings systems are more straightforward and involve fewer components, it's easier for engineers to shop online, figure out how they can use the product for their specific needs, and become creative more quickly! 

It's also easier for employees working on the assembly lines to get involved in the optimization process, stay proactive, and improve their work tools. Which is excellent for professional satisfaction and motivation!

Since the cost is higher, the testing part becomes more expensive and financially risky with the aluminum extrusion profiles. Making the whole testing and trying process more complicated than it is with the tubular system. This constraint tends to result in a longer, more complex planning process when creating new modular structures. 
Adapting and Evolving: a Constant Concept
Perfectly embodying the Lean Manufacturing concept, the Flexpipe production systems can easily be adapted to follow the production's new needs and reality. The simplicity of the structures ensures that any changes can be applied quickly and tested right away, thus leaving room for errors and constant improvement along the way.

Modifying already existing T-slot frames is a little more complex since they're also more complicated to assemble in the first place. Because of the various components involved in the system, the modular aspect of the structures is not as easily adaptable to feedback and testing. On the other hand, the multiple parts open up more options and possibilities for robotic integration and automation of specialized types of systems.

What's Your Budget?
Although the products' cost varies depending on the specifications of the project, aluminum tends to be about 30% more expensive than Flexpipe. 

For some manufacturing companies designing and working with an important number of workstations and production systems, the choice of material becomes very important. General application has a significant importance when it comes to choosing the best option. 

However, when it comes to intra-logistic applications where push-carts and flow racks are required, the cost and flexibility of pipe and joints systems trump T-slot aluminum extrusion profiles.

Is the Aesthetics a Priority?
Some professionals like the sober, straight lines, and modern looks of the T-slot aluminum profiles. Therefore, it could be considered a better choice for the aesthetics of their framing system. 

While it is possible to buy colored aluminum extrusions, it is more common to see clear aluminum finish or the typical blueish color of anodized aluminum often seen on Vention's extrusions for example, because of the considerable costs involving the powder coating process for coloration. 

On top of the traditional black and stainless colors, tubular systems like Flexpipe offer blue, yellow, green, white, red, orange, gray, and ivory colored tubes. The choices in colors mostly aim to make it easier to use color-coding systems on a production floor. Still, they can also bring a lighter atmosphere to a work environment! 

If you're looking for a sleeker, sober look, Flexpipe's stainless tubes matched with chrome-plated joints could very well match your taste. 

To better visualize what a pipe and joint structure look like, check out our photo gallery featuring structures assembled internally by the Flexpipe team.

Takeaway
While both products offer customized, creative and efficient solutions in various production structures, their technical particularities make their use complementary. 

Each of them is more appropriate in different contexts of the production system. On your typical assembly line, any robotics or automation-related construction system will likely be more productive and precise if built with t-slotted aluminum profiles. On the other hand, pipes and fittings systems will be the obvious choice when building flow racks, workstations, modular boards, or carts!

Temie Fessa, a project manager for Flexpipe who has been working in the field for over ten years, says many of his clients will use both systems in different contexts. He points out that when engineers or consultants have been using aluminum extrusions on their production line for a long time, they'll tend to keep the same habits when designing new structures, as a professional legacy. Because they are so used to the t-slot aluminum framings, they won't question their choices or look for other options unless they are given a specific assignment related to budget cuts, for example.

And since the price of steel tubes and fittings is much lower than aluminum extrusions, once they've discovered the tubular systems and how easy it is to use, many companies will start integrating the tubular products as much as they can in the production environment. Especially when they don't need the heavy-duty aspect or the precision provided by the strut profiles. Using steel pipes tubular systems, therefore, allows them to cut the costs without any downside.

Pipe and joint system for medical equipment

Pipe and joint system for medical equipment

Here are examples of how medical manufacturers use the pipe and joint system for lean manufacturing. Below are several photos of various workstations: U and L-shaped work cells and one-piece flow assembly line, among others.

 

 

Manufacturers also use pipe and joint systems to build carts for different purposes: WIP, kitting cart, sub-assembly, etc. The structural system can also be used to build custom flow racks and 2-bin systems than can be integrated into the workstations.

Why should I use Sketchup instead of my usual design software?

Why should I use Sketchup instead of my usual design software?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
After a particular time, we sometimes get set in our ways of doing things. To a certain extent, familiarity can breed a certain level of efficiency. However, if you're in a continuous improvement environment, have you considered new ways to speed up the freehand drawing process?

Whether you're using AutoCAD, Inventor, Catia, SolidWorks, or any other 3D computer design software, read on to learn how our team at Flexpipe cut design time in half.

Up until 2011, the Flexpipe design team used Solidedge software. We were drawing sketches rather quickly; maybe not the fastest out there, but we thought we were pretty good nonetheless! All our joints had already been drawn previously, and we were producing complete computer designs in about 4 hours. Some took just an hour, such as for boards, while others took an entire day, an elaborate kitting cart, for instance.

The problem was that sometimes we would spend 5 to 8 hours drawing a single sketch, and, in some cases, the project would not get the go-ahead. To reduce this time waste, we developed an extension for Sketchup, which eventually allowed us to cut our drawing time by half! This was a huge gain for our designers who were sketching all day long! In 2016, we decided to offer this time-saving feature to our customers. As of 2019, the extension is available to all pipe and joint users, even if they are not Flexpipe customers.

 
Benefits of the Flexpipe Creator Extension for SketchUp
The developed extension has several benefits that will reduce your drawing time in half for you too!

1 - Converts lines into pipes with the desired Flexpipe color in 1 click, which makes the design more straightforward and faster to create. You can quickly change your structure with one click to go back to the sketch with lines.

2- Finds and places the right metal joints – and suggests alternatives – in one click for all the pipe intersections. That way, you don't have to know all the joint options and speed up design time considerably. The Flexpipe Creator extension can spots metal joints that conflict with others to avoid any incorrect design features. It also accelerates the assembly process.

3- Suggests other accessories and puts them in the most appropriate locations. He also offers visibility options to hide pipes, joints, and accessories, allowing you to modify a drawing faster.

Once your structure design is complete, you will be able to generate a bill of material in an Excel format, including a cutting list for pipes, roller tracks, and decking. This will speed up the purchase request and avoid any retyping waste.

You'll also get an optimized cutting list and a visual diagram to reduce pipe, roller track, and decking wastes. The Flexpipe Creator extension has links to Flexpipe's online store so you can evaluate pricing, create a shopping list that you can share, or place the order right away!

Want to see the Flexpipe Creator extension in action?
Watch our quick demo

 
Key benefits of the Sketchup program include:

Low cost for the commercial license;
Minimal hardware requirements;
Access to the Sketchup 3D Warehouse - a comprehensive list of extensions and API;
Access to the Sketchup Library: other CAD models created by other users;
Easy to use;
Flexpipe Creator Extension is available!

The best way to design an optimal structure is to focus on the concept and the structure's purpose. Try to spend more time with people on the floor to ask them about their needs and what type of structure they have in mind. They usually have already thought about a concept, but sometimes merely need to explain it in their own words.

As you can well guess, we're all about efficiency. Therefore, with LEAN principles mind, we strive to reduce time wastes in the various sketching steps, i.e., putting in measurements, changing pipe colors, finding the right connector, putting together the cut list. So you can craft your design in the most efficient way possible.

If you need more information on Flexpipe's Creator extension, please contact your project manager. He will be happy to provide any information you might need.

Everything you need to know about our modular system starter kits

Everything you need to know about our modular system starter kits

First time are you using modular systems? Well then, a kit is the best way to ease your team into using this type of equipment because all the parts and examples of plans are already included. Read on for more detailed information about this kit and all the pieces included.

Who should use starter kits?

You’ve done your due diligence and have finally gotten approval to buy Flexpipe equipment. Your team and management are on board, but now you’re racking your brain trying to figure out which parts you need to order and which structures the team must build. Flexpipe’s starter kits are going to make your job a whole lot easier. We know time is money; let us help you save on both.
What’s included
Based on our experience and that of our customers, we’ve created each starter kit in such a way that it contains the parts and their corresponding unit count, most commonly used to build various types of structures. We ensure that there is a proper ratio of units (i. e.: screws, connectors, and tubes) so you’re not stuck with unnecessary leftover parts. Depending on the structure you want to build, we supply you with its essential components (such as conveyors for flow racks, for instance). We also include up to 7 structural plans if you want to get a head start on assembling your structures.

For new customers, one of our project managers can assist you in designing the structures to meet your specific needs. From there, one of our draftspeople can create two 3D plans for you. Once the plans are approved, the parts list is updated to make sure all the units to build the customized structures are part of the kit. Additionally, all tubes come with information relating to their cut length. This will make assembling the first few structures much easier.
Advantages
A starter kit is a terrific way to learn the ropes on how to use a modular system because no pre-assembled tube-and-joint structures are available for purchase. Skip having to design plans; you can start building the structures right away! Gone are the headaches of making sure that you and your team have all the necessary parts. Our goal is to ensure that learning to use our system is as easy as possible. With the purchase of any starter kit, you will get the ultimate starter box, which includes all tips and tools needed to get started as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
The possibilities of a starter kit
If you want to improve your production floor’s operations, personalizing the equipment your employees use to fits their needs is a win-win for efficiency, budgetary, and ergonomic concerns. With a modular system, the structures can be easily and quickly improved upon, and as often as necessary. Whether it be adjusting their height, size, or adding a turntable, shelves, drawers, or shadow boards, adaptability is vital here, and that’s precisely what Flexpipe pipe and joint systems deliver.

With a starter kit, you’ll be able to build 4 or 5 sizeable structures. We recommend you start by creating a structure that is not too complex. Remember, even a simple project can have a considerable impact on operations!

Options
Once you’ve placed your order, our customer service team will contact you to confirm which color you would like the tubes to be. What’s more, should you want to alter the list of parts, we’ll be happy to make the necessary changes.

Training
Need help building your first structure? Your team can take advantage of training sessions at Flexpipe’s headquarters—free of charge! If you prefer, our assembly experts can carry out the training for your facilities. To get the basics down pat while in practice, a starter kit is essential.

 

Why your workplace requires a Flexpipe Crib

Why your workplace requires a Flexpipe Crib

The Flexpipe Crib is a storage structure that requires assembly. The structure will allow you, among other things, to organize your various modular system parts, make the system far more intuitive to use. This equipment may appear to be somewhat costly to the uninitiated.

However, by reading below, you’ll get a comprehensive overview of the Crib’s potential and usefulness in your work environment.

 

 

An excellent example of 5S principles
The Flexpipe Crib was designed according to Lean Manufacturing
A place for everything and everything in its place is a crucial concept in 5S principles, and the Flexpipe Crib is an accurate reflection of this concept. This structure features three distinct sections: cutting workstation, centrally-located shelf unit, and tube storage cart.

The cutting workstation includes a platform to set up a saw, storage shelves for your tools, and a drawer with foam cutouts to store small tools.

The 5-tier central unit includes two shelves and three conveyor levels for optimal product storage.

The cart includes an 8’ section for tube storage as well as a section designated to manage scraps efficiently.

Each of these components is mounted on wheels making it easier to move each one around for quick configuration changes. Furthermore, you can quickly create a U-shaped cell to reduce movements during the assembly process. One can also choose to close off the Crib when not in use to save space.

The Flexpipe Crib was designed according to the Kanban “two-bin” system to facilitate the inventory of assembly parts at a glance. Two posters displaying all the possibilities of Flexpipe products grouped by category are also included in the Crib’s packaging. Why not do like our customer below and build lateral supports to display the posters clearly!

With these posters clearly visible, no matter who tries to build stuff, they can see what items are available

Michael Dumas - Manufacturing Manager at Barfield Inc.

Too often, structures are assembled directly on the floor or stacked pallets. This is probably the best way to lose parts and increase the risk of work-related accidents.

The Crib is an ergonomic and organized location specifically designed to assemble your modular structures.

Use it to show your team just what Lean Manufacturing standards are all about. In a best-case scenario, each of your facility’s departments should be organized in such a way that they are just as Lean as your Crib.

 

An excellent self-teaching opportunity
Fill two needs with one deed when learning about the modular system’s various uses
Each Crib comes with pre-cut parts, a detailed, step-by-step assembly plan, and two parts posters. The assembly instructions have been simplified to make the learning process more comfortable, regardless of your skill level.

It took us a while to begin assembling our Crib, but it turned out to be a training session in itself. When we got down to it, we discovered the modular system’s enormous potential. We also realized just how practical some parts were and put them in our structures. We should have taken it out of the box much sooner!

Jamie & Jamie - Maintenance workers at Robinson Innocations

More information:
How modular carts help this logistics company improve its efficiency

 

It is the most frequently used parts that will go into your Crib’s assembly.
When the time comes to assemble more complex structures, you will have already learned the modular system’s basics. It’s worthwhile to keep in mind that assembling the Crib enables you to understand each component’s usefulness in the overall system.

With over 150 different components, you’ll become familiar with certain parts that are often overlooked. Such as accessories (AO-CLIP, AC-STRAP, AI-CORNER, AS-REST), slide brackets (FL-COU), and two types of wheels: stem swivel caster (W-4ESB) and plate swivel casters (W-4PSB).

Here is the list of tools included in your Flexpipe Crib:

T-HANDLE;
T-BIT;
T-CUTTER;
T-REAMER;
T-DEBURR;
T-BCUT;
T-BDEB

Afterward, all you’ll need to do is equip yourself with cutting and assembly tools such as a saw, drill, driver, and measuring tape. Complete your lean manufacturing workstation’s setup with an assembly platform made of Flexpipe tubes! That said, you’ll be able to build it according to the size which meets your needs as well as the available floor space.

To determine which tools are best suited for your situation, please read our articles regarding the best tube and joint system cutting tools and assembly tools to get the job done.

 

Your mini moonshine shop
Where assembly and creativity go hand in hand
The location you choose to set up your Flexpipe Crib can be more than a mere assembly zone. Make it a place where creativity will fuel continuous improvement initiatives. This area should be accessible to all to encourage as many employees as possible to participate in the creative process.

To set up an efficient and productive moonshine shop, you need a dedicated space at the plant, equipped with basic tools and materials. For example, some companies have a moonshine shop right in the middle of their facility so that employees can see innovative work taking place in real-time.

You can also use your Crib as a storage unit for your 5S tools. Colored labels, floor marking stickers, visual learning tools, or any other 5S project-related items can all be kept in this location for quick and easy use.

As such, the Crib will become a purpose-driven location where 5S principles and Lean Manufacturing principles are highly visible for daily implementation.

More information:
9-step checklist for a Kaizen moonshine shop

 

Some even use the Crib as a meeting point to discuss essential topics and address urgent problems (Obeya) or for daily morning meetings (DMM).

 

In a nutshell, the Flexpipe Crib will be a valuable asset when integrating 5S in your facility.
On the one hand, it will help you become familiar with the modular material handling system. On the other hand, it will be an ergonomic and safe place for your continuous improvement projects.

Besides being an area dedicated to assembly and creativity, it can also be a designated gathering-point for Lean-themed meetings.