The benefits of a modular handling system in the automotive industry

In the automotive industry, choosing the right material handling system is crucial. It might not be obvious, but the products used to move and store materials on the production floor have a major impact on a company’s profit and growth, not to mention the health and safety of its employees.


What are the most common wastes in the auto industry?

In lean manufacturing, waste is defined as any activity in the production process that consumes resources but does not add value for the customer. Lean methodology aims to minimize waste to make the manufacturing process more efficient, boost productivity, and reduce costs, ultimately delivering more value to the customer and improving the business’s overall performance.

In the automotive industry, some of the most common sources of waste include transportation, motion, waiting, and errors.

Defects

Waste from a product or service failure to meet customer expectations

Overproduction

Waste from making more product than customers demand

Waiting

Waste from time spent waiting for the next process step to occur

Unused talent

Wastes due to underutilization of people’s talents, skills, and knowledge

Transportation

Waste time, resources, and costs when unnecessaraly moving products and materials

Inventory

Waste resulting from excess products and materials that aren’t processed

Motion

Wasted time and effort related to unnecessary movements by people

Extra-processing

Wastes related to more work or higher quality than is required

Transportation waste occurs when materials, products, or people are moved around more than is necessary, using up valuable time, money, and space, and sometimes leading to damaged items. For example, driving equipment back and forth across a warehouse rather than keeping tools close to where they’re needed is considered wasteful.

We were spending a lot of time loading and unloading parts to pallets/carts/shelving, and we were spending considerable time searching for parts
Supervisor – HRE Performance Wheels factory

Motion waste is similar to transportation waste, but typically refers to avoidable movements made by employees or machinery. If an operator has to bend down to retrieve a part from a low shelf, for instance, that’s an action that not only brings no value to the customer but also creates the risk of physical strain, making it more difficult for the operator to do their job efficiently. Ideally, all parts would be shelved at waist level to eliminate bending or reaching.

In a poorly designed workflow, machines may also make unnecessary movements, which can lead to premature wear and tear.

Motion waste refers to avoidable movements made by employees or machinery

Waiting waste is usually easy to spot: it occurs anytime an employee has to stop and wait before they can proceed with their task. This can happen for various reasons—maybe they need instructions from a supervisor, or perhaps they are waiting for a colleague to deliver a particular tool to their station. Other examples of waiting waste include equipment waiting to be fixed and parts waiting to be processed due to a bottleneck.

Waiting waste occurs anytime an employee has to stop and wait

Errors or defects in the manufacturing process result in products being either scrapped or reworked. Both outcomes create waste: a defective product that cannot be fixed is unusable and of no value, while a fixable product will be sent back through the production chain, costing more time and money.

Errors or defects result in products being either scrapped or reworked

What are the most common challenges for auto manufacturers?

Waste is just one of the challenges faced by auto manufacturers. The sector has been particularly hard hit by the supply chain problems brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to a multitude of issues—most notably, a global shortage of computer chips and a tight supply of other key materials such as steel and resin—automakers are having trouble getting the components they need from suppliers. As a result, they’ve been forced to slow their production rates, meaning fewer cars and fewer sales. And although car prices have skyrocketed due to increased consumer demand, the high prices are only partly offsetting the decline in revenue.

The sector has been particularly hard hit by the staff shortages lately

At the same time, auto manufacturers are dealing with labor shortages. Throughout the pandemic, many companies have experienced increased absenteeism as a result of employees staying home to quarantine, waiting for COVID-19 test results, or caring for their children. On top of this, waves of older factory workers are reaching retirement age and leaving a gap in the workforce that isn’t easy to fill, as manufacturers must compete with other industries to attract and retain skilled workers.

Some automakers have even resorted to transferring office personnel to the production line to address staffing shortages. This is risky, however, as a lack of warehouse experience can lead to production errors and bottlenecks, not to mention accidents. In fact, safety is one of the biggest challenges for automotive manufacturers, not just due to the shortage of skilled workers but also because it takes a great deal of planning to ensure that the work environment and processes are safe and ergonomically sound.

Safety and ergonomic have become two important princips in the manufacturing sector

5 ways material handling can drive growth in automotive facilities

Fortunately, the right material handling system can help offset some of these challenges by contributing to your business’s growth.
The modular system is the ideal system if your goal is to customize and adapt your structure to the needs of your business. The options are endless due to the choice of lengths used in this type of system: pipes of variable lengths and colors are available, as well as seals for all types of joints, different sized roller tracks, and several types of casters to suit your project needs.

When appropriately designed, you can put the structure exactly where you want to obtain very precise results:

  • Increased safety: Considers the ergonomic factor for employee safety
  • Reduction in handling: Helps reduce unnecessary handling and movement by your employees
  • Space-saving: Maximizes the organization of space in your facility
  • Money-saving: modular systems save 30 to 50% of the equipment budget
  • Eco-friendly/recyclable
  • Scalable: You can improve and optimize a structure that is not suitable or that requires modifications (change of personnel, two employees of different sizes sharing the same workstation, etc.)
  • Easy to assemble

Save money

A modular material handling system made up of tubes and joints tends to be less expensive than a traditional fixed system. Not only do you save money on the equipment itself, but you also spend less on any changes you make to the system later on. For instance, if you wanted to change the configuration of an assembly line built from steel parts, you’d need to hire a welder, and the cost might be prohibitive. However, if your assembly line were built from tube-and-joint materials, your team members could easily make the changes themselves.

What’s more, a modular system allows you to customize your work processes for maximum efficiency, which translates to even more cost savings down the line.

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.

After beginning his career as an engineer at General Motors, Jerry Collins spent many years leading cost management initiatives at companies such as Delphi and BWI. Eventually, he recognized a need for a formal organization to govern the discipline of cost engineering, and with this in mind, he founded the Society of Cost Engineers.


Save time

Modifying a fixed material handling system isn’t just costly, it’s also time-consuming. With a modular system, your team can make changes quickly, thereby reducing downtime and lost revenue: instead of shutting down production for days or weeks to reconfigure the system, you can make the necessary adjustments in an afternoon. And if you wanted to test out different iterations of a work process to determine the most efficient set-up, you would have more time to do so.

We find Flexpipe to be extremely versatile. The black inspection booth is the bare bones of an Inspection Station we have replicated, at least a hundred times, and have shipped around the Globe. We have adapted it to nearly all stages of our production processes. Adding monitors, hydraulics, test fixtures, drawers, light curtains and more.
– Dan Shappee, Continuous Improvement Specialist at Magna

Improve ergonomics

Traditional material handling equipment is not always designed with ergonomics in mind. To protect the physical well-being of your employees, it’s a good idea to invest in a material handling system that can be adjusted to meet the needs of the people using it. An ergonomically sound work environment will have a positive impact on productivity, employee retention, and ultimately, on your bottom line.


Improve safety

One of the major advantages of customizable material handling equipment is that you can set up your work processes to be as safe as possible. This is always vital, but it becomes even more important when you have a less experienced workforce. For example, to reduce the risk of accidents caused by people or materials crossing paths, you could create an assembly line without intersections.


Reduce errors

Although it may not be possible to eliminate errors completely, a modular material handling system gives you the flexibility to organize work processes logically, reducing the likelihood that employees will make mistakes.


In short, implementing a modular material handling system is one of the smartest decisions you can make for your automotive plant, as it can help reduce waste and drive growth at a time when the industry is grappling with numerous challenges. And as automakers transition toward producing more electric and hybrid vehicles, there will be substantial changes to existing manufacturing processes—making it more important than ever to have a flexible, adaptable system.

Top 10 structures that we see on a Automotive production floor

The benefits of working with Flexpipe

We can support you throughout your project or for specific needs

TURNKEY PROJECTS

One of our project managers will support you from A to Z to:

  • Launch a turnkey, new production line
  • Implement a new work process – Audit and evaluation service
  • Adapt a workstation to new equipment
  • Request an estimate and receive a one quickly
  • Watch this short video to discover 4 easy steps to order your project.
We are the fastest modular supplier in all of North America. You’ll receive a tracking number to ensure your parts arrive on time for your project.

  • Estimate sent within 48h
  • First prototype provided in 24h to 48h
  • Impeccable inventory management – Few backorders
  • Order sent within 24h
  • Custom design in 24h to 48h
Flexpipe has become an important modular system equipment vendor for Proterra Inc.
In the past years, we’ve used multiple vendors to provide carts, tables, stands, boards, etc. The standard process to purchase a fixture would be to provide a drawing of what we were looking for and the vendor provide a completed product. While the quality of the build was good, the lead-times however, were typically 4 weeks or greater and the fixtures were expensive to purchase. So began our journey…

Proterra is pursuing initiatives to accelerate long-term growth and productivity gains across the enterprise. Lean Manufacturing, or the Proterra Production System (PPS), is our overarching continuous improvement approach within the organization. We felt we needed to improve our ability to implement fixtures with shorter lead times at a reduced cost, while still creating a quality product.
After much research, we decided to partner with Flexpipe. We began by building our kaizen workshop.

We then created a method to submit and track projects in which anyone in the company can create a request. We also provide training to our team members to use the kaizen workshop when they are working on a kaizen team or have an idea to improve their area. This allows our team members to feel more engaged and have a stronger sense of ownership of their work areas. We emphasize creativity and our team members like building fixtures.

– George McDonald, Director, Lean Manufacturing – Proterra
Kaizen Workshop at Proterra
Kaizen Workshop at Proterra
We find Flexpipe to be extremely versatile. The black inspection booth is the bare bones of an Inspection Station we have replicated, at least a hundred times, and have shipped around the Globe. We have adapted it to nearly all stages of our production processes. Adding monitors, hydraulics, test fixtures, drawers, light curtains and more.

Flow racks, shuttle carts, water-spider carts, workstations and much more have all been done with Flexpipe. It’s versatile and reusable. In the several years we have been using it, we rarely disposed of anything that wasn’t mangled by a Hi-Lo, or angry operator.

– Dan Shappee, Continuous Improvement Specialist at Magna
The black inspection booth is the bare bones of an Inspection Station we have replicated at least a hundred times

CREATE YOUR OWN DESIGN with the SketchUp Creator Extension

Aisin

Convert your mock-ups with just one click!

This free tool will help you create and visualize your tube and connector joint structures even before you assemble them.

Check it out

The Creator was a game-changer for me, especially for more complexe structures. It allows you to develop designs and assembly plans for those designs. This is exceptional because, provided your build constraints are correct, you can perform almost any R&D in virtual space. This saves time and material waste from building to a dimension, then tearing it back down to rebuild to another dimension.

This software continues to grow and develop for and with its users. Should any user have an idea or suggestion, Flexpipe is very receptive and quick to implement changes where they are needed.

– John LeRoy, C.I. Fabricator at Yamaha Motor

3 DISTRIBUTION CENTERS TO SERVE YOU QUICKLY:

Flexpipe has a fantastic customer service team. If you have an issue with order status, pricing/availability, designing, planning or usage of the Flexpipe Creator: one email or one phone call and you’re quickly on the road to a tailored solution.
– John LeRoy, C.I. Fabricator at Yamaha Motor

FAST ASSEMBLY SERVICE

You don’t have the labor to assemble your structures? No worries, we can assemble your project and ship it directly and safely to your factory.

AUTHORIZED INTEGRATORS

We have a network of authorized integrators all over North America willing to assemble your project at your site.

KITTING – PRECUT PROJECTS: WE CAN BRING TOGETHER ALL THE PIECES NEEDED

We offer pre-cut kits to make your life easier! Get all the necessary components based on the quantity required for your project, in addition to receiving pipes that are pre-cut to the correct length. Contact your Project Manager to have your project evaluated and get a plan

TRAININGS AND WEBINARS

In order to meet your business needs and all your questions, we provide training in various forms. This can occur in your plant or in ours, or directly via the internet. See all the details here.

Flexpipe Inc frequently offers webinars at no cost to the viewer, they have a YouTube channel with lean oriented videos on how to install every part they offer, an entire section on their website for learning how to build tube and joint structures…and if none of these resources can answer your questions, you can book one on one time with a Flexpipe team member who will listen and walk you through the recommend solution.
– John LeRoy, C.I. Fabricator at Yamaha Motor
Flexpipe is an important partner and we like the fact that they are always working to improve their products. If we are unsure about an application, Estaban is a great resource for us as he regularly provides training sessions that are especially helpful for new fabricators. They have a lot of “How to build” and plans for inspiration on their website and can be reached with most any question.
– George McDonald, Director, Lean Manufacturing at Proterra

PERSONALIZED DESIGN SERVICE IN 24h to 48h

Our project managers have a solid foundation in engineering to better support and advise you to meet your needs. We also have an industrial design department to create your 3D plans. Click here to find out which project manager is assigned to your region.

OUR PRICES ARE ON AVERAGE 30% lower than those of the competition

Complete your project at the best price; get more tubing and connector joints for your budget. Flexpipe offers the best value for money in North America.

If you compare Flexpipe’s shopping cart price to Creform products for a similar project, buying from Flexpipe is more economical every time. The savings vary between 18% and 46%. We compared the price of three different projects here.

THE TUBULAR SYSTEM VS ALUMINUM PROFILES

  • The prices are much lower
  • Structures can be assembled faster
  • The system is easy to understand and use
  • Structures can easily be tested, improved, and adapted to be consistent with Lean philosophy
We use Flexpipe as a less expensive alternative to Extruded aluminum. We have virtually cut our need for Extrusion by 90 percent.
– Dan Shappee, Continuous Improvement Specialist – Magna

 

Creform alternative Comparative Study

We have compared services, parts, technical specs, and prices from our most popular competitor.
Consult the complete Creform alternative comparative study

 

They use the Flexpipe modular handling system

GM Canada
Toyota_Boshoku
toyotetsu
ADAC-Automotive
CPK
dna
hbpo
kirschoff
AGS
ainsin
Yamaha
mahle
magna
valeo
multimatic
THK
jomi_engineering

Get in touch with us


Sources

7 Wastes of lean | kanbanize.com
Identification of Major Lean Production Waste in Automobile Industries using Weighted Average Method | sciencedirect.com
Automakers’ problems are much worse than we thought | CNN Business
Technology Predictions: What’s ahead for the Auto Industry in 2022 | todaysmotorvehicles.com
As Auto Industry Roars Back, Worker Shortages Throw Up Roadblocks | NPR

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temie-fessa-portrait
Temie Fessa - Project Manager - Midwest USA

Temie is a Flexpipe project manager covering the US Midwest and Western Canada. He joined our team in 2014 and has a deep commitment to all his undertakings. What’s more, he is now one of Flexpipe’s three partners.