Pipe and joint system for medical equipment manufacturers
Here are examples of how medical manufacturers use the pipe and joint system for lean manufacturing. Below are several photos of various workstations: U and L-shaped work cells and one-piece flow assembly line, among others. Manufacturers also use pipe and joint systems to build carts for different purposes: WIP, kitting cart, sub-assembly, etc. The structural system can also be used to build custom flow racks and 2-bin systems than can be integrated into the workstations.
Whether it be to launch a new assembly line, to introduce a lean manufacturing concept, to move operations in a new factory, or to improve existing processes, medical manufacturers are required to participate in the structure design with the Flexpipe designer team. Alternatively, manufacturers can decide only to buy parts (pipes, joints, casters, etc.) and do the assembly themselves with a step-by-step drawing or ask the Flexpipe team to deliver a turnkey project. In any case, the medical manufacturer should then keep a minimum of spare parts to fix, and mainly to improve existing structures, as needed.
Setting up a new assembly line and temporary assembly line
Being more agile is vital for many medical manufacturing engineers, and being able to change the setup for product improvement for new product launches quickly is crucial in the industry. A custom modular system such as pipes and joints is of great help. Temporary assembly lines can be quickly put together by the Flexpipe team or by any creative and handy staff member. If no longer needed, the lines can be dismantled, and the pipes, joints, and other accessories are stored in totes for future use.
A modular structural system can also be used to modify an existing workbench even if they are made of steel or wood.
Reduce excess traffic in the production zone with flow racks
Flow racks are frequently used in the industry. On the rear side, the employee tasked with keeping materials in stock at the point of use in production areas (sometimes referred to as a “water spider”—‘mizusumashi’ in Japanese) will supply containers of new parts to the production side on inclined tracks. They will then unload the empty containers from return lines very often located on the top or bottom lanes for ergonomic purposes.
On the production side – the front side, workers will always pick the oldest components available first, then channel the empty component containers back to the supply side. The structures are designed and built to bring parts as close as possible to the work zone, thus ensuring that employees work ergonomically.
The 2–bin Kanban system is a lean manufacturing supply chain management method, aimed at reducing inventory and optimizing processes. The two-bin system (sometimes referred to as the min-max system) requires the use of 2 bins, whether physically or on paper. The first bin is meant as a supply source for the current demand and the second for satisfying demand during the replenishment period.
Implementing the 5S ideology
Based on a Japanese concept, 5S translates to “sort, straighten or set in order, shine or sweep, standardize, and sustain.” This tool—and lean in general—is far from being a new thing. But if you’re not currently using it in your operations, it’s worth looking into.
5S principles have been used for the past several years at ZOLL Medical Corp. in Chelmsford, MA. Krush Patwari is a project manager there who has spent 15 years working with lean. Empowering people is his favorite aspect of lean; he explains, “The things I like the most about lean in general is the cultural aspect.” “Everyone feels empowered to make changes. And there are many a-ha moments. People are happier to work in an organized space, rather than surrounded by chaos.”
Medical device manufacturers have used many of the same justifications, postponing the widescale adoption of lean manufacturing. “Besides the typical excuse that ‘lean is for automotive manufacturers’ or ‘lean only works for Toyota,’ the most common reason against using lean concepts is work in a highly regulated environment,” says Sammy Obara, president of Honsha Associates, an alumni association of former Toyota Motor Corp. engineers and managers.
Top 3 reasons why medical equipment manufacturers are into lean manufacturing
Faster delivery times
Medical device companies use lean strategies mainly for speedier delivery times within their operations. If a medical device manufacturer can shorten its internal production lead times, two key benefits will result: 1) It can be much more agile in responding to customer quantity variation, especially during the peak period. 2) Without the need for excessive inventory, a company can invest more money into development or acquisitions.
Saving floor space Many medical assemblers’ facilities are located in areas that are not necessarily with an industrial vocation, thus resulting in a higher price per square foot compared to other industrial sectors. Furthermore, launching a product quickly is critical – and required – to be agile on the production floor. Given that most medical device companies are not vertically integrated, lean supply chain methodologies can be used to shorten supply chain lead times and reduce inventory on the production floor.
Faster product development to manufacturing Most people think of lean as a manufacturing methodology only. However, it was also Toyota’s lean product development process that provided it with an advantage in the automobile market. This same thinking can provide medical device companies with the ability to beat its competitors to market with products that better meet the needs of its customers.
Julien is Flexpipe’s president and co-founder. He came upon lean manufacturing in 2006 and launched Flexpipe in 2010. His mission since then has been to introduce the modular system to new markets by making it affordable and accessible.