Flexpipe Kaizen Tool


How to optimise material Flow with a Tugger Cart system?

How to optimise material Flow with a Tugger Cart system?

When companies need to safely move loads, equipment, or machinery from one location to another, they often turn to tuggers. Some tuggers are simple hand-held carts or trolleys that allow operators and employees to drag, pull or tug raw materials, consumables, and finished goods. Other tuggers are heavy-industrial machines capable of pulling upwards of 100-plus metric tons.

How to Sell Continuous Improvement to Senior Management

How to Sell Continuous Improvement to Senior Management

Regardless of the company – or the industry – senior managers in manufacturing enterprises need to make decisions based on cold, hard, irrefutable facts. They need numbers. They need data. They need to ensure that their decision to move forward has a high probability of success.

Senior managers need this critical information to make a go/no-go decision on capital expenditures, hiring, expansion, machine and equipment repairs, or, more aptly, for pursuing continuous improvement projects.

Learn more about the three fundamental principles needed to convince senior managers to pursue continuous improvement initiatives and how Flexpipe structures are critical to that goal with insight from Leslie Pickering and Mark Zeilinger of Quadrant 5.
Pursuing Continuous Improvement Initiatives
In manufacturing environments, waste can take many forms. It can include work stoppages, human error, misaligned or out-of-tolerance parts, poorly assembled parts, machine downtime, redundant tasks, repetitive tasks, or any action or process that inhibits the natural flow of work.

Sometimes, reducing waste in manufacturing can be as simple as reducing the transit times to move work-in-process parts between cells. It could include revamping a workstation so that the assembly process is more seamless and the operator within the workstation has easier access to materials and tools.

Regardless of what approach is taken, these changes initially seem small. However, when repeated across all work cells, these small changes quickly add up until costs are reduced, quality is improved, and more finished goods are produced. Unfortunately, because these small steps seem so inconsequential, senior managers have difficulty viewing the benefits of adopting lean concepts.

As stated by Leslie, “Senior Managers are really good at developing global views – where they can see the end game or the end goal – but they often don’t take a sequential process to how those goals are achieved – what steps need to be taken sequentially to get there. Your job in continuous improvement is explaining the steps to achieve that goal.”
A Simple Three-Step Process
Ultimately, adopting continuous improvement initiatives can be summarized in three overriding steps. Leslie states, “1. This is what is currently happening. 2. This is what we’re trying to do, and 3. These will be the benefits of implementing lean.” So, does that mean you simply verbalize these issues to senior management, and they’ll quickly agree to pursue lean initiatives? No, it does not.

These three steps are merely guidelines. You must gather the hard facts that senior managers need to implement lean. Your goal includes gathering the data and defining the metrics that will help senior managers measure the return on investment (ROI) for enacting continuous improvement across the entire production floor.
Cycle Times and Throughput Volumes Are Key

All work operations or work tasks involved in making a product have a cycle time. Lowering cycle times means you’re manufacturing more products at a lower cost. The question senior managers want to be answered is whether the savings of implementing lean are higher than the cost of implementing lean.

In our example, we’re using a basic cycle diagram (below) showing the steps for manufacturing a product. Our basic cycle diagram defines each work process or manufacturing step involved in making a fictitious product.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume that each of these “steps” represents a single work cell. Each cell has a specific cycle time for a given work operation –the time it takes an operator to complete a work task.

Each cell also has a throughput volume – that volume of semi-finished parts the cell completes before those parts move to the next chain in the process.

This exercise aims to gather data on how lean initiatives can 1) Lower cycle times, 2) Increase throughput, 3) Lower manufacturing costs, and 4) Shorten the lead time to get finished goods to customers.

At the end of the exercise, you’ll have the data you need to show senior management what was happening, what you changed and why, and how making similar changes across all cells will result in lower cycle times, increased throughput, and reduced costs – or to paraphrase Leslie “the benefits of implementing lean.”
Manufacturing / Cell Productivity Rate
While operators might be paid for an 8-hour shift, they do not work a total of 8 hours. You must account for two 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon and then lunch. In our example, we’ll assume it’s a one-hour lunch. That leaves 6.5 hours of actual available work time.

Now, nobody can work at 100% efficiency. People go to the bathroom, get called away, or are interrupted for valid reasons. We’ll assume that the operator works at 85% efficiency. This means that the work time is 5 hours and 35 minutes.

We’ll now use that 5 hours and 35 minutes when calculating the work cell’s throughput.
1.“This is What is Currently Happening.”
Every lean process has a beginning, and we’ll assume that beginning includes you focusing on an initial assessment of a single work cell. Start by assessing the cycle times for each work task in your chosen work cell.

Ensure the operator or employee of the cell understands that your goal is to help make their job easier.

Make them feel part of the process, and they will be more than willing to show you some of the issues they come across.

Ensure they understand that this exercise is not about timing them but capturing the causes of work stoppages.

Mark of Q5, “We’re always touching on the human element. How do you get people engaged? That’s where improvements happen. Nobody knows that piece of equipment or machinery better than the operator themselves. So, you really need their input. The approach is to create “an island of excellence,” something people can point to as an example. So, give people recognition – a pat on the back and make them feel part of the continuous improvement process.”

 

Operation
Work Cell #1

Unit of Measure
Cycle Time in Minutes converted to seconds

Product
Widget X

Set Up-Time Minutes
Conversion of Minutes to Seconds
 Number of Work Operations
Cycle Time
Conversion of Minutes to Seconds
Comments / Notes

30
1800
1
7,00
420,00
Missing material (Operator had to search for material)

2
8,00
480,00
Missing assembly instruction

(Operator had to search for instructions)

3
25,00
1500,00
Broken SawBlade / No replacement (Operator had to leave work cell and go to stores to get replacement blade)

4
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

5
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

6
8,50
510,00
Missing assembly instruction

(Operator had to search for instructions)

7
9,00
540,00
Missing tool (lack of tool placement caused delay)

8
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

9
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

10
15,00
900,00
Missing tool (lack of tool placement caused delay)

Averages
9,25
393,90

 

You’re going to create your own “island of excellence” by using these initial cycle times within the cell to show the issues the operator faces daily. You’ll also capture any reasons for delays or work stoppages.

In our example, the cycle times with no issues are done in five minutes or 300 seconds. We’ve converted it to seconds because even the smallest changes that save a couple of seconds can dramatically impact.

Now, the 5-minute cycle time may not be the optimized cycle time, but for this example, it’s the best cycle time this cell produces.

However, the average cycle time at the bottom is skewed by the operations (1,2,3,6,7, and 10) that encountered work stoppages. This means these work stoppages pushed the average cycle time to 9 minutes, 25 seconds, or 555 seconds.

There is no hard and fast rule about how many cycle times you should track. In our above example, we’ve tracked ten cycle times. We’ve converted those times from minutes to seconds to simplify how we calculate how much the work cell produces.

Deduct the 30-minute setup time from our manufacturing productivity rate of 5 hours and 35 minutes.
Take the remaining 5 hours and 5 minutes and convert them to seconds. This gives us 18,300 seconds of available work time.
Now, divide the 18,300 seconds by the cycle time in seconds, which is 555. This gives us a work cell throughput of 33 units.

The table below summarizes the data you’ve gathered from the work cell. Now, it’s more than likely that you already know what a given work cell produces. You may also know what the cycle times are. Plenty of MRP and ERP software solutions provide cycle time data.

However, no software can show you how to reduce the cycle times. It can only report them. It can only provide numbers. You need to see for yourself what causes work stoppages. Only then can you enact strategies to reduce those cycle times and increase throughput.

 

Operation
Average Cycle Time in Minutes
Average Cycle Time in Seconds
Total Number of Seconds (5 hours 5 minutes)
Work Cell Throughput

Work Cell #1
9,25
555,00
18300
33

 

You now have data on a work cell that defines Leslie’s first statement: “This is what is currently happening.” You have a list of the most common delays encountered by the operator in the work cell. You know the causes of higher cycle times and can enact strategies to eliminate those causes.
2.“This Is What We’re Trying to do.”
One of your changes included making a modular and scalable Flexpipe tool storage rack. You then placed this rack immediately outside the work cell, so the operator no longer has to walk to inventory to get replacement saw blades.

Another change included making a Flexpipe workstation where all tools and consumables are easily located. You combined this new workstation with a modular flow rack so that replacement consumables and materials are always readily available.

Finally, you’ve created a modular Flexpipe work center where the operator can easily access assembly instructions.

Storage Rack: Machine Parts (Blades)
Modular Workstation
Modular Flow Rack
Modular Work Center with instructions

After making these changes, you revisit the work cell and take a new set of cycle times.

While there are still operations that encounter some delays, the overall benefit is that you have achieved more operations that meet the desired cycle time.

 

Operation
Work Cell #1

Unit of Measure
Cycle Time in Minutes converted to seconds

Product
Widget X

Set Up-Time Minutes
Conversion of Minutes to Seconds
 Number of Work Operations
Cycle Time
Conversion of Minutes to Seconds
Comments / Notes

30
1800
1
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

2
7,00
420,00
Misaligned part - small adjustment

3
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

4
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

5
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

6
7,35
441,00
Replacement Tool needed - easily found - small delay

7
7,30
438,00
Replacement Tool needed - easily found - small delay

8
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

9
5,00
300,00
No issues - clean work task

10
14,00
840,00
Broken Saw Blade - Replacement blade in material flow rack immediately outside work cell minimized replacement time.

Averages
6,57
393,90

 

A new workstation made locating replacement tools easier for the operator.

Placing a storage rack for replacement saw blades immediately cut down on the time the operator took to replace the blade.

Instead of a 25-minute cycle time or “delay,” the operator merely located the replacement blade and made a change that only took 14 minutes.

Ultimately, your average cycle time was lowered to 6 minutes and 57 seconds.

The lower cycle times mean the work cell increased its throughput by 41%, from 33 to 46 units.

 

Operation
Average Cycle Time in Minutes
Average Cycle Time in Seconds
Total Number of Seconds (5 hours 5 minutes)
Work Cell Throughput

Work Cell #1
6,57
393,90
18300
46

 
3.“These Will be the Benefits of Implementing Lean.”
Increasing throughput in a work cell accomplishes nothing if the remaining work cells don’t make similar continuous improvement changes. All you’re doing is creating a backlog for the next cell in the process.

You’ve increased the cell’s throughput, but without making similar changes to the remaining work cells, it’s all for naught. At this point, you’ve gathered enough data to show how making small incremental changes can have a dramatic impact on a work cell’s throughput.

Senior managers often have little choice but to move forward on additional continuous improvement initiatives when presented with this data. It’s now very easy for them to see how repeating the process will lead to significant improvements and savings.

The costs of a Flexpipe structure include the cost of the materials and the time it takes your operators to assemble structures. That initial cost is minimal when compared to the constant returns of pursuing lean principles. The benefits of lean are forever.

As stated by Mark, “That’s what we love about Flexpipe. It’s really easy just to try something. There’s no downside whatsoever. Cut a pipe too short, and we’ll just use it elsewhere.”

Ultimately, the company would achieve the following benefits if you pursued similar continuous improvement initiatives with the remaining cells.

Increased Manufacturing Throughput: More parts are produced in a day, week, or month.
Reduced Costs: The company achieves lower manufacturing costs by increasing the number of finished parts produced within an 8-hour shift.
Shorter Lead Times: Reducing cycle times and increasing cell throughput means you’ve reduced the time it takes to provide finished goods to customers.
Improved Machine Utilization: There is nothing more costly for manufacturers than having idle machinery. In the example above, having consumables and spare parts for machinery immediately outside the work cell helped to reduce the time the machine was sitting idle.
Better Ergonomics and Safety: Poorly constructed work cells often include hazards that lead to human error and injuries. Worker injuries and absenteeism cost manufacturers $1,100.00 per day per worker. Take the number of missed days due to injury over a given year and use that amount as further justification for pursuing continuous improvement initiatives.

Cost-Effective Flexpipe Material Handling Solutions
Flexpipe is a Montreal-based supplier, designer, and integrator of modular, scalable tube and joint systems for material handling. The company’s customer-centric focus and proactive approach empower manufacturers to make their structures at a fraction of the cost compared to fixed material handling systems.

The company’s free design extension for SketchUp is easy to use and provides a complete assembly drawing, material cost breakdown, and bill of materials.

If you would like to see how Flexpipe can help on your next continuous improvement project, contact us now.

About our Lean expert - Leslie Pickering

Mr. Pickering holds a degree in Mechanical and Production Engineering. He brings 35 years of experience in international process improvement, manufacturing, and operations. He is a recognized Toyota Production System specialist and is highly regarded as a Subject Matter Expert in the areas of Lean Manufacturing.

About our Lean expert - Mark Zeilinger

Mr. Zeilinger holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He brings over 30 years of experience in manufacturing and operations. Mr. Zeilinger is a recognized Toyota Production System Specialist, who has implemented successful transformation methodologies across a wide variety of industries, including Packaging, Electronics, Construction, Plastics, Food, Automotive, and Aerospace.

Critical Steps to Choosing Material Handling Systems

Critical Steps to Choosing Material Handling Systems

Different types of material handling solutions, equipment, and machinery are used within supply chains to move, store, protect, control, and handle materials. The goal is to ensure that materials are readily available and that parts and finished goods are properly protected during transit to and from warehouses. Material handling is a critical component for manufacturers, warehousing, wholesalers/distributors, resellers, and retailers.

 
What is a Material Handling System?
A material handling system includes any equipment, vehicle, standing structure, storage unit, rack, or trolley involved in storing, transporting, and protecting materials, consumables, and finished goods. For manufacturers, a material handling system should be designed with short-range movements in mind. This means that production employees should be able to easily access and move raw materials, consumables, and work-in-process parts.
Why Is Material Handling Important?
Material handling is a critical component of protecting against damage to parts, raw materials, and consumables. This not only saves companies money but also improves final product quality by reducing defects. Material handling solutions should be part of a larger company-wide program to improve a company’s storage and handling practices. Only a proactive storage and handling process can protect against unforeseen and costly part damage.
Material Handling Systems Across a Supply Chain
Material handling solutions should simplify employee access to materials and parts so that the speed of work increases. Ideally, these systems should also be easy to modify and scalable to keep up with changing requirements. Across a given supply chain, material handling solutions are heavily relied upon as a means of meeting delivery requirements with minimal product defects.

1 . Production and Manufacturing
Material handling systems found in manufacturing include carts, flow racks, racks, tuggers, shelving, workbenches, workstations, boards, and other storage solutions. Each of these systems plays a critical role in supporting production employees by supplying them with the necessary tools, instruments, parts, instructions, and consumables to complete work orders.
2. Packaging and Transportation

Manufacturers typically ship their industrial finished goods on strapped pallets of corrugated cardboard containers. Corrugated containers and customized packaging are often used as a means of protecting materials from damage during transportation. They are also the most cost-effective way of transporting industrial finished goods. Strapped corrugated pallets help keep raw materials, consumables, and parts safe during transit.
3. Storage and Warehousing
The most common types of warehouse material handling systems include forklifts, lift trucks, hoisting equipment, shelving, pallets, pallet jacks, automated guided vehicles (AVG), and even robotic handling systems. Forklifts are the all-important vehicle in warehouse management. These are heavily relied upon to move corrugated and strapped pallets, while lift trucks can position pallets on high vertical shelves.
4. Wholesalers and Distributors
Wholesalers, distributors, and bulk resellers rely upon a combination of material handling solutions. Distributors typically use forklifts, lift trucks, and hoisting equipment to handle and store shipments. These are then broken down into smaller shipments which are then sent out to retailers. The focus is to minimize costs so incoming bulk shipments are often used as a means of lowering per-unit freight costs.
5. Retailers
Large retailers with large warehouses typically rely upon forklifts and lift trucks in addition to large shelving and storage units as a means of controlling finished goods. Smaller retailers may simply require pallet jacks, commercial hand trucks, warehouse stock carts, or small utility carts.
Problems with a Fixed Structure Material Handling System
Most portions of the supply chain don’t necessarily require customized modular material handling systems. There are instances where wholesalers, distributors, and large retail chains benefit from modular shelving and storage systems. However, manufacturers and fabricators are more heavily reliant on modular material handling systems if they want to adopt lean manufacturing, improve efficiencies, and control costs.

Unfortunately, for manufacturers, there are several inherent problems associated with a fixed material handling system like utility carts, trolleys, stock carts, or fixed shelving structures. The first issue relates to how several of these material handling solutions have welded joints or are designed and pre-manufactured to specific dimensions.

[caption id="attachment_36625" align="alignnone" width="1080"] This too heavy cart with inadequate wheels was a real source of problem for the team in addition to being a danger to their safety.[/caption]

Making any kind of adjustment to their dimensions or structure is both labor-intensive and time-consuming. This means spending a considerable amount of time having maintenance make changes. These changes often involve cutting, machining, and welding. For companies without these in-house capabilities, it means sending these structures out to third-party subcontractors.

Not only are third-party subcontractors expensive, but they can have drastic consequences on a company’s production throughput. It’s not uncommon for subcontracting to add weeks or even months for modifications to fixed structure material handling systems.

Second, as part of any continuous improvement plan, it’s common for companies to change their warehouse or shop floor layout. They may do this to reduce transit times between workstations and work cells, maximize available space, make room for a new piece of machinery or equipment, or increase their warehouse and production space to keep up with rising demand.

 

Once these changes are made, fixed structure systems that were pre-manufactured to specific dimensions quickly become obsolete. Companies must either cover the high costs of repair and refurbishment or purchase an entirely new material handling system.

Third, fixed structure material handling systems are by their very nature and design incapable of being flexible. They can’t be adjusted without a costly overhaul, repair, and refurbishment. This makes fixed structure material handling systems extremely problematic for manufacturers, especially ones adopting a continuous improvement mindset.
What do Manufacturers Need?
Manufacturers who adopt lean manufacturing principles need to reduce manufacturing cycle times and reduce transit times to increase production throughput. Sometimes that requires the willingness and ability to customize material handling systems for new product lines or new projects. Unfortunately, that’s not possible with fixed structure material handling.

Manufacturers must optimize their material handling systems throughout the entire production process. This means properly handing and storing incoming raw materials, while also improving the accessibility of those materials and consumables in lean work cells. Next, they need to reduce the transit times for semi-finished parts to adjacent work cells. When the entire material handling process is optimized, the company reduces waste, lowers manufacturing cycle times, and encounters fewer production delays.
The Benefit of a Modular Material Handling System
A modular material handling system is one where employees can make immediate changes to the structure’s layout without encountering extensive delays. These solutions typically include modular piping and tube and joint systems that can quickly be cut, extended, and joined in a fraction of the time compared to a fixed/welded material handling structure. Sometimes these changes can take no more than a couple of minutes.

Unfortunately, adjusting fixed material handling systems typically involves a substantial amount of industrial cutting, machining, and welding which can take days and weeks to complete. Modular systems are cost-effective solutions that are easy to assemble and disassemble without having to worry about extended lost time.
Improving Material Handling for Manufacturers

 

There are two essential criteria for optimizing material handling across the entire shop floor. First, a material handling structure inside lean work cells should be designed for minimal worker movement. This means parts, tools, materials, consumables, and semi-finished parts are easily accessible to production employees from within their work cells.

Second, the material handling equipment outside the work cell should be just as functional and easy to use as those inside the work cell. This ensures that transit times to move work-in-process parts to the next lean work cell in the production process are minimized.

When both the inside and outside of all lean work cells have optimized material handling structures and material handling equipment, it has the cascading effect of lowering production cycle times across the entire shop floor. After all, a single delay from a production work cell causes the next cell in the chain to experience delays until eventually, every chain in the process is behind schedule.
What can we build with a Modular Material Handling System?
There is simply no shortage of modular material handling systems that companies can make on their own using pipe and tubing systems. These products are perfect complements to a company’s constantly changing manufacturing environment. Without these modular piping solutions, companies would be faced with the high costs and delays of fixing, repairing, refurbishing, and re-welding older material handling equipment, or worse, having to purchase new ones.
Modular and Scalable Flow Racks
Most often associated with inventory and warehousing, material handling flow racks can also be placed in, or immediately outside of, lean manufacturing work cells. Having materials, parts, and consumables stationed in flow racks adjacent to work cells eliminates wasted transit times for employees from the work cell to the warehouse and back again. In essence, these material handling flow racks can sometimes act as small inventory retainers so that employees don’t waste time walking long distances for the materials they need to finish a work order.

Flow racks have an inclined design which makes it easy for employees to access the materials and parts inside production bins. Modular material handling flow racks empowers manufacturers to make relatively quick adjustments to the flow rack to account for a larger bill of materials. This could involve disassembling a portion of the flow rack to add more levels to handle more bins, or widening the length of each rack.
Modular and Scalable Carts

Carts have a multi-purpose function as material handling equipment. First, they help warehouse employees manage, move and store incoming shipments while also helping to prepare outgoing shipments.

Second, they are often essential for moving semi-finished parts and assemblies to and from separate work cells on the shop floor. Sometimes those semi-finished parts can be quite large, wide, or long. Third, they are ideal solutions for moving multiple production bins, parts, and materials for different work orders to different shop floor locations.

While carts have multiple uses, a modular and scalable cart built with tube and joint systems expands those uses and benefits ten-fold. Manufacturers know that nothing is static or stationary on the shop floor for long. Being able to adjust a cart’s size, height and width isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. Modular piping solutions empower manufacturers to adjust to any change in requirement.
Modular and Scalable WorkStations

Workstations are the all-important building block of any lean manufacturing work cell. A poorly-made or badly-designed workstation leads to endless wasted time as employees search in vain for poorly-placed parts, tools, instructions, bins, materials, or work orders. All this wasted time reduces operational efficiency.

If the workstation isn’t designed or structured around 5S principles (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) or worse, is not movement-friendly, then it’s no longer a lean workstation.

As important as a clean workstation is, it’s nowhere near as important as being able to adjust the workstation with modular piping solutions. Invariably, the workstation’s design will need to be changed, or modified at some point, and a fixed structure workstation is extremely difficult to adjust without encountering wasted time and high costs.
Modular and Scalable Racks

Racks are critical for holding inventory within warehouses. Not only do racks help to protect inventory, but their loading capacity means they can hold inventory for long periods. A higher loading capacity means each level protects the inventory on that level and each subsequent level beneath it.

It would be great if you only needed one type of rack with perfectly spaced levels that never need to change, but that is rarely the case. This is why a modular and scalable rack is so important.

Tube and joint systems allow you to create a tailor-made rack with individual levels you can adjust. Since inventory costs are typically based on warehouse square footage, a modular rack system allows you to free up valuable warehouse space, thereby reducing warehousing and inventory costs.

There is nothing more costly or time-consuming than having to change a fixed warehouse racking system. Modular racking can be made to fit the exact size and space you need to store materials, parts, and finished goods and are scalable and adaptable to support any change.
Types of Materials used to build a handling system
There are material handling systems that are pre-manufactured to specific dimensions and made with different types of materials. Ultimately, understanding the pros and cons of these materials is needed to better understand if they are viable solutions for your handling needs.

Aluminum Extrusions:

Aluminum is a lightweight, high-strength, and durable material that often has strong corrosion resistance. It is often used in manufacturing material handling equipment provided the aluminum is properly taken care of. Unfortunately, that is often the problem with a material handling structure manufactured from aluminum. Should that aluminum get stretched – which will eventually happen – then the aluminum’s surface layer will oxidize and corrode.

It’s also not uncommon for aluminum to experience water staining with high magnesium-aluminum alloys staining the most. While this doesn’t necessarily degrade the material’s properties, it is an obvious eye-sore that is less than appealing. Just imagine customers seeing water stains on every single aluminum material handling system you have.

Welded structures:

There are plenty of material handling systems that are welded. Unfortunately, these welded structures make the structure’s physical dimensions permanent. Any pre-manufactured or fixed material handling equipment is not easy to adjust or change. In fact, they aren’t designed or supposed to change.

These structures have a role to play for companies like distributors, retailers, or resellers who offer high volumes through a small number of product lines. If these product lines rarely change, then welded structures might work. Unfortunately, business change is commonplace, and welded structures aren’t just expensive to purchase – they’re expensive to fix and replace.

Standard Hardware Store Structures/Shelving:

An argument can be made for hardware store storage and shelving systems. They do play a role in inventory management. However, that role is extremely limited. It’s not uncommon for warehouses to have small shelves that hold small consumables like tape, hammers, nails, scissors, labels, etc. Unfortunately, that’s about it. These systems do not have sufficient load capacity on each shelf which means weight distribution across that shelf is very limited and extremely problematic.

Wooden Structures:

While rarely used, some companies create material handling equipment, workbenches, and workstations out of wood. Unfortunately, this is neither a good material nor a stable material to withstand the heavy loads and repeated use so common in warehouses and production shop floors. Gradually, over time, wood rots, especially when it’s exposed to humidity. As the rot propagates, the wood degrades even further and becomes weaker until eventually, it cracks or breaks. Even in a temperature-controlled warehouse, wood shelving is not a long-term viable solution.
Modular Material Handling Solutions Check all the Boxes
Companies nowadays have multiple concerns. It’s not just about making a good product, building a brand, and keeping customers. While each of these is important, there are other issues today’s companies are starting to take more seriously. Fortunately, a modular material handling system can address all these issues and more.

Ergonomic and Safe Solution

Employee absences due to work injuries are extremely expensive. The typical manufacturer covers $1,000.00 of additional costs every day an employee is injured. When employers adopt ergonomic principles, it immediately has an impact on employee engagement. Their efficiency, productivity, and attendance all improve. In return, companies don’t have to cover as many costs for absences due to injury.

For many industries, a modular material handling system is part of their overall ergonomic strategy. These are the companies that will incorporate anti-fatigue matting solutions inside work cells to provide improved impact resistance for employees. When tube and joint solutions are used alongside anti-fatigue matting solutions, then companies can easily adjust and cut both to accommodate the other.

Modular material handling systems are relied upon because their surfaces, corners and the entire structure is clean, free of burs, and void of any sharp edges. This means modular handling systems are not only ergonomic but safe for use.

Inexpensive Solution Compared to Fixed Structures

Companies faced with modifying fixed structure material handling equipment incur substantial costs and delays. Changing or adjusting fixed material handling systems often involves a tremendous amount of labor-intensive and expensive work.

Simply put, modular piping solutions are easier and faster to assemble, require less expertise, and are nowhere near as expensive or take anywhere near as long as having to send fixed structures to subcontractors. These systems can easily be assembled in-house and adjusted in a fraction of the time compared to a fixed structure material handling system.

Easily Recycled – If needed

Modular handling systems aren’t just easier to work with. While having a system that’s easily customized and adaptable is a definite plus, another benefit includes the ease with which modular systems can be recycled. This is but another way for companies to showcase their environmental stewardship.

The piping and square piping is typically made from steel with a polyethylene coating or a highly-scratch-resistant paint coating. Roller tracks are made from steel or Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. Joints are also made of steel. Finally, the end caps, pipe connectors, and hinge brackets are either made of PVC or other highly-durable plastic. Ultimately, the result is a material handling solution that is scalable, adaptable, affordable, and recyclable.

Designed with Efficiency in Mind

Modular material handling solutions are designed with efficiency and lean concepts in mind. Companies providing these tube and joint systems are well-aware of how businesses need a scalable and modular solution. These structures can be assembled and disassembled in a fraction of the time when compared to other material handling solutions made from other materials. Ultimately, it’s about enabling companies to make their own changes and structures as they see fit.
Choosing the Right Solution
Choosing a material handling system comes down to defining the type of business you run, the customers you serve, and the market or industry you operate in. Manufacturers have an obvious benefit from using modular material handling systems. However, if you are a small retailer, then modular systems aren’t likely to add any benefits or efficiencies. If you’re a business that sells a few product lines and those product lines never change, then fixed structures might be a solution. However, if your business is constantly changing and continuously growing - and if you know first-hand that fixed structure material handling has not worked for you - then modular systems may just be what you need.

Standard and Non-Standard Surfaces at Flexpipe

Standard and Non-Standard Surfaces at Flexpipe

There are several steps to designing a Flexpipe modular structure. One of them includes choosing the material you’ll use. You’ll need this information to determine how many pipes you’ll need, how many connectors and accessories you’ll use, and most importantly, whether you want your structure to have surfaces.

This article will outline the four types of surfaces that Flexpipe offers, and some others used by our customers.
The Flexpipe Standard
Despite the unprecedented number of existing surfaces, at Flexpipe, we have defined a standard of four surfaces. These four surfaces meet most of our customers' needs. The following list includes these four and other surfaces our customers use.

*For the installation of surfaces, with 1/2" surface you can use either F-SF81 from the top or AO-EMT1 and F-S81/2 and for 1/4" surface you can install them with F-SF81 from the top or with help of different accessories with some bolts like the AI-CORNER or the AI-SUPPORT.*
1. HDPE
Pricing: $$$

Due to its flexibility, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is the most commonly used surface in Flexpipe structures. Used to make workstation tops, it’s also a great material to make drawers, shelves, or even footrests. HDPE comes in several colors and formats. Flexpipe offers 48” x 96” sheets of ½ or ¼-inch thick in white or black. Long considered the surface of choice when making modular systems, HDPE is highly resistant and solid. It’s important to note that black HDPE is less expensive because it’s recycled.

2. The Aluminum Composite
Pricing: $

Aluminum composite is a 1/16-inch thin sheet of HDPE pressed between two 1/32-inch aluminum sheets. Because it’s so thin, Aluminum composite can easily be damaged. This means it is better used as a shelving solution or to close off the sides of a structure – instead of using it for the top of a workstation. This surface has two different finishes: a matte side and a shiny side. It comes in a 48” x 96” and 1/8” thick sheet.

3. Acrylic sheet
Pricing: $

Less popular than other surfaces, acrylic sheets are more often used as separators (e.g., between a cashier and a customer) or as a protective screen against debris (e.g., installed behind a miter saw to prevent wood chips from flying away).

4. Pegboard
Pricing: $$

Used to complement structures, the pegboard hangs objects using small hooks inserted directly into the pegboard. It is more often used with workstations or shadow boards.

Non-Standards
The following surfaces are not part of the Flexpipe standard. However, they have been used by Flexpipe in some manufacturing projects at the request of our customers.
1. UHMW
Pricing: $$$$

UHMW stands for ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene. This type of HDPE has electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection. This surface protects against electrostatic shocks between people and the structure or between people and the product. UHMW is mainly used by Flexpipe customers who manufacture electronic products.

2. Plywood
Pricing: $$

A less popular material but less expensive option is wood or plywood. While plywood is easily accessible and has some positives, such as its price and protective ESD properties, it also has some negatives. Among them includes the fact that plywood can be easily damaged. It’s also more challenging to work with when compared to plastic. Finally, it’s susceptible to liquids and moisture.

3. Prefabricated
Pricing: $$

Although many people design their structures and then plan their surfaces, some prefer to build their structures from a surface. For example, they find a surface they would use for a workstation or a desk and then work to create a structure that will adapt perfectly to that surface.

Conclusion
Regardless of the type of surface you choose, your choice must be ideal for your job. If you still doubt your choice, you can quickly contact us through the chat at the bottom right of this page or contact the project manager in your area. To find the nearest project manager, visit the contact page.

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.

Best tools to cut deckings

Best tools to cut deckings

Assembling any Flexpipe structure invariably means cutting deckings. Your goal is to have deckings that is clean, safe, and free of sharp edges. So, what type of equipment do you need to cut your deckings? Fortunately, there are multiple solutions you can use.

We’ve put together a list of the most common tools Flexpipe and our customers use when cutting deckings.

*To provide the best possible cut for every surface, Flexpipe uses blades for woods with 60 carbon teeth. Most of the equipment we’ll cover is likely equipment you already have.*
Performing the First Cuts
1. Panel Saw / Vertical Saw
This often-used and universal tool can be found in any hardware store or construction site. The panel saws allow you to cut multiple surfaces with minimal interference or problems. We use it to cut large surfaces such as 48” x 48”, 48” x 72”, and 32” x 96” etc.

2. Table Saw
Table saws allow us to cut small or large surfaces. It is an extremely versatile and relatively inexpensive solution that most manufacturers either have already or can afford. You can cut surfaces measuring 2” x 10” or as large as 48” x 72”.

3. Circular Saw
The circular saw provides a simple and immediate solution when making Flexpipe deckings. It allows us to cut tight corners and angles on both large and small surfaces. We can also perform vertical cuts on wide surfaces . However, special attention is required when using hand tools so be sure to be extremely careful.

4. Miter / Bevel Saw
Flexpipe doesn’t typically use miter or bevel saws but there are a few instances where we need them to cut small surfaces and corners. It’s not a high-use tool but it can help in some circumstances.

5. Band Saw
While Flexpipe doesn’t often use Band Saws, they are still useful when it comes to cutting specific shapes – other than just square or rectangular cuts. We also use it at times to make precision cuts on small surfaces or to make rounded corners.

6. Jigsaws
While some may claim that band saws and jigsaws can perform the same type of cut, for Flexpipe, the jigsaw provides an advantage that Band Saws don’t. First, as a hand-held tool, you have greater control and can make more precise cuts. However, again, it’s important to be careful when using hand-held tools.

7. Hole Saws
Hole saws are most often associated with hand-held drills. They aren’t used for cutting straight lines but are used to cut out circular rings in materials. This means you can use them to remove material within the circular cut to install connectors or to pass tubes. It can also be used to make edges round but doing this means you’ll need the circular saw to finish the job.

Finitions of the surface
Now that we’ve taken care of the cutting, we need to move on to finishing. Regardless of whether you want to make a shelving unit, drawer, or workstation, you’ll ultimately need to make sure the surface is free of debris, is smooth, and doesn’t have any burs.

Flexpipe relies upon two tools for finishing. We use them to ensure our decking does not have any sharp edges or protruding parts. The goal with any final Flexpipe structure is to ensure that it is finished properly and safe for use by our customers and their employees.
1. Right Angle Die Grinder
This is another hand-held too so be careful during use. This tool is ideal for sanding down uneven connections between two surfaces and providing a smooth finish. This is especially useful if you’ve used a saw that doesn’t leaves a smooth surface or leave cut marks.

2. Hand-Held Deburrer
A deburrer is another handheld tool that helps remove sharp edges. It’s also ideal for working on corners that are considered too square for other tools. For sharp edges and round corners, using anything else but a deburrer could cause problems or even injuries to employees.

Conclusion
Always be sure to draw an outline or generate a schematic of your decking long before you start any cutting. This will help you choose the right tool for the right job.

Each of these tools has either been used in-house at Flexpipe or by our customers. They are the most common tools used and will help you manufacture your Flexpipe solution from A to Z with minimal problems. If you want to learn more about how to work with the Flexpipe modular system, we invite you to read our articles on the best tools for pipe cutting and the best tools for assembly.

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.

Your browser does not support the audio element.

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.

Four Benefits of Karakuri in Lean Operations

Four Benefits of Karakuri in Lean Operations

The term Karakuri -or Karakuri Kaizen- is derived from the Japanese word meaning machinery or mechanical device used to assist a process with limited (or no) automated resources. Its origins come from the mechanical dolls in Japan that essentially helped lay the foundations of robotics.

 

Instead of being controlled by software or a computer, the basis of its functionality lies entirely in the overall design of the device. This can range from the simple use of gravity to the use of springs, weights, pendulums, etc.

Many facilities and operations are coming to the conclusion that mechanical automation is the only way to go, as Karakuri Kaizen can provide advantageous and relatively inexpensive solutions that can improve operational processes. This can be achieved by using the "Kaizen" approach, which is based on the idea that the "Kaizen" approach is the only way to improve productivity and reduce costs.
Example of the use of Karakuri in Lean Manufacturing
Karakuri is one of the many tools associated with Lean concepts and methodology. Using its fundamentals allows you to dive deeper into business process improvement, but from a cost reduction perspective - it will ultimately allow you to find innovative solutions with a smaller budget. This is why Karakuri Kaizen is commonly used in Lean Manufacturing. Consider this example:

Toyota had identified an inefficient process within its automotive assembly line in which operators were pushing their material/tool carts by hand. This was resulting in lost productivity and an overall extended production cycle time. So Toyota developed a Karakuri-style cart that can be mounted on the car's engine. Once a car is finished, a weight is released that allows the cart to move to the next vehicle. Toyota also incorporated a tray with parts placed on the fender that allows operators much easier access to materials and tools. Removing non-value-added steps as Toyota has done will progressively reduce process times and allow your operation to produce more, in less time.

Want to know all the ins and outs of building a karakuri structure? Esteban lived the experience and can tell us all about the trials and errors Here is his story.

Four benefits of Karakuri in Lean Manufacturing
Taking an approach like Toyota, one of the world's largest automakers, can provide substantial benefits to a facility attempting to move to a more Lean approach. Using Karakuri Kaizen can provide you with the elements necessary to maintain a competitive edge within your industry.

• Cost reduction - As mentioned throughout this article, Karakuri Kaizen enables significant cost reduction in a variety of ways. By reducing production cycle time and lowering automation and overall material costs as processes are optimized, operations will be able to reinvest in themselves more, as their bottom line will be positively impacted.

• Process improvement – In synergy with other Lean concepts, Karakuri reduces the overall cycle time by "automating" the process with a device, instead of relying on manual movement. Like the Toyota example, breaking down the process and locating non-value added steps will help determine which elements would benefit from innovative Karakuri solutions and structures.

• Quality improvement – Process improvement has a direct impact on product improvement. An inefficient production process increases the chances of manufacturing defects and potential errors, so process planning and establishing the most efficient route can only further improve product quality.

• The simplicity of maintenance – Automated systems lead to increased maintenance costs, especially for operations that are almost entirely dependent on their automation. This will usually result in the need for a 24/7 maintenance team in case the system fails - which it inevitably will. Karakuri devices are easy to maintain because of their simplicity and the materials they are made of, so managers don't have to spend a fortune on a new department and team to keep everything running well.

Karakuri Kaizen provides a beneficial foundation and framework that ensures your production system continues to optimize processes and operational flow. If you are looking to improve operational efficiency, Karakuri is an indispensable tool that will improve performance and enhance the bottom line.
The mechanisms used to make a karakuri
[caption id="attachment_37825" align="aligncenter" width="871"] Le système de levier est un mécanisme couramment utilisée.[/caption]
1- The lever is one of the most important inventions of karakuri style

 

The lever system is a commonly used structure, especially in simple devices. It allows for easy lifting of heavy objects, as it involves a bar moving on a fixed point (the fulcrum) when a force is applied to it.
2- Inclined planes

 

Inclines are everywhere - they are almost impossible to avoid. Sloping roads, hills and ramps are examples of inclines we encounter every day. The incline is a simple but effective way to transport an object on an elevated surface or to use gravity to your advantage to send an object down.

 
3- The winch

 

A winch is a device that creates or releases tension on a rope or wire to adjust its length, usually by means of a crank. Winches are commonly used in tugboats, fishing boats, cranes and even rescue helicopters.

 
4- The spring

 

The spring is another element frequently used in everyday life by many people. It can be found in a mattress, an enclosure and even in a mouse trap. Springs are made of steel and are available in a variety of designs, including the coil spring. Springs store mechanical energy and release it when a restraining force is removed. One can easily picture a spring when thinking of a retractable pen.

 
5- Magnetic energy

 

It is said that opposites attract - at least that is the case with magnets. Magnets allow for attraction or repulsion and are another commonly used karakuri-style structure, especially in refrigerators and freezers.

 
6- The pulley system

 

Like the other simple systems on this list, the pulley system was a revolutionary idea used in all types of industries. The pulley involves the use of a rope or cord around a rim, which allows for the transmission of energy and motion. It is especially useful when lifting heavy objects; in this regard, the more pulleys added to the system, the more weight is distributed among them, making it easier for the user.

 
7- Pascal's principle

In the visual below, Pascal's principle demonstrates that a force applied at one point to a liquid in a container is accompanied by equal pressure in all directions. F1 pushes down on A1 in a smaller, more condensed area, but this equal force and pressure will be exerted in A2 and up to F2, thus illustrating the principle.

This principle is widely used in many pieces of equipment such as hydraulic systems, car brakes, barber chairs and a variety of equipment.
The first steps with the Karakuri
Like many other facilities, you may be wondering where to start. Flexpipe offers innovative solutions to your process constraints and understands the importance of having the best equipment available for maximum production efficiency. Our project managers can help you generate ideas and assemblies for your Karakuri structure to take productivity and operational efficiency to the next level. Flexpipe offers innovative solutions to your process constraints and understands the importance of having the best equipment available for maximum production efficiency.Our project managers are able to help you generate ideas and assemblies for your Karakuri structure, to push productivity and operational efficiency to the next level.

You don't have to spend a small fortune to be operationally efficient. Karakuri structures are simple, innovative solutions that are a must for any team looking for cost-saving solutions. Reduce cycle time, improve processes and production quality by contacting Flexpipe for assistance in designing and building a Karakuri structure for your facility.

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.

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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