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Making Lean Manufacturing Work
Vertical lift carousel offers the most efficient use of storage floor space.
By Bonnie Sawyer, Remstar, Westbrook, ME
Lean manufacturing and distribution are based on improving processes within an organization to eliminate waste where it is found. It is a philosophy that, put into practice, eliminates and reduces costs and increases a company's value. It is derived from the original Toyota focus on the reduction of "seven wastes" which consist of: defects or damage that prevent a customer from accepting the product; overproduction, which increases the time a product sits and waits in storage; transportation, which increases the risk of damage, delays, and misplacement; waiting and wasted time for workers and resources; inventory not yet actively in process in the form of raw materials, work-in-progress (WIP) or finished goods; motion, which in excess can set the stage for product damage; and overprocessing, which uses valuable resources or complex processes when more efficient ones can be used. Lean is a systematic and continuous improvement approach of these seven principles aligned with the overall growth strategy of a company.
With this Lean outlook, companies with small parts, electronic components, and fragile items need to analyze their current processes. Where and how can one begin to competitively increase production and expand capacity? Solutions that can streamline processes, increase productivity, and increase efficiency and effectiveness to bring organizations up to the next level are not as difficult or elusive as one may imagine. Embracing lean can be as simple as implementing an automated storage and retrieval system properly configured for the application. Not only do these systems and their processes address the "seven wastes" mentioned, they can also add security, increase accuracy and open up floor space for more value added production area or office space.
The implementation of vertical and horizontal automated systems within a manufacturing and distribution operation can:
Increase accuracy and thus decrease defects.
Reduce overproduction by allowing you to keep only what is needed on hand.
Reduce transportation by delivering items directly to the employee.
Reduce or eliminate wait time by delivering items directly to the employee.
Reduce or eliminate unnecessary inventory by increasing visibility with integrated software (also reducing "shrinkage").
Reduce and eliminate the unnecessary motion of walking, searching, reaching and bending by delivering items directly to the employee.
Reduce overprocessing by simplifying processes and increasing employee productivity and efficiency.
Shelves & Drawers Must Go
If your operation is growing and still using traditional systems such as rack, shelving and drawers with workers picking items and transporting them to workstations; conducting manual Inventory counts down multiple isles; searching, reaching, bending and lifting items which exposes product to damage and defect, then your available floor space may be dwindling. A lean initiative is on your plate and you're at a decision point: add more traditional systems and workers, or look at what automated storage and retrieval solutions can do for you.
As plans are being drawn up for a new building, remember that automated solutions can not only save you floor space (up to 85 percent of a traditional storage system's previously occupied area) but also get you well on your way to being lean. As we said, the focus of a lean manufacturing and distribution initiative is to eliminate waste that can occur during operations and to optimize process flow. By considering automated storage and retrieval solutions, organizations can address space issues while at the same time successfully implement their lean initiative goals.
The very nature of automated storage and retrieval systems is to bring stored items to the employee so that their valuable time is focused on the task at hand. Employees who are focused on product coming to them from an automated system are not walking, searching or waiting for product. Employees who are now spending up to 70 percent of their time walking isles searching for product could, alternatively, be accessing systems that bring the exact item directly to them. These systems not only reduce walk and search time, they can also eliminate the Wait time that accrues further on down the process chain.
When an item is delivered directly to the employee, accuracy is also increased. With the many choices of pick-to-light products available with automated systems, employees know exactly which items to pick and how many. Every system has the ability to use one of many integrated pick-to-light technologies to indicate the active shelf or tray level and quantity of items to pick. Restocking time is also reduced. End customers or production areas receive the exact item needed and the subsequent elimination of unnecessary handling reduces the risk of damaging fragile components and electronic product.
Horizontal carousel makes it easy to pick for kits or for immediate assembly.
By addressing the Transportation, Wait Time and the Motion goals of lean, and thereby decreasing the chances of Defects, automated storage and retrieval systems can provide substantial increases in productivity and efficiency while at the same time reducing labor costs up to 2/3, all in one fell swoop.
The Greatest Asset
Another advantage of addressing lean's Motion goal is your employee's safety. Employees are a company's greatest asset. Providing them with a safe working environment goes a long way to leaning your company towards success. Automated storage and retrieval systems improve employee safety by reducing excess manual motion. Items automatically delivered to the employee are presented at an ergonomic height for picking. This design eliminates the climbing, reaching, bending, stretching, and twisting actions associated with traditional storage methods. The systems are also easy to use with training time being minimal.
Electronic component manufacturing and distribution centers must have well managed and tightly controlled Inventory to be successful. Inventory management involves knowing at any given moment the real time quantity and location of raw stock, work-in-progress and finished goods. Automated storage and retrieval systems equipped with inventory control software can take the guesswork out of inventory management by giving accurate accounts of just how much is where at any given moment. Increasing accuracy, increasing order cutoff times; reducing lead times and maximizing storage density are just what automated storage and retrieval systems do best. The system receives the orders from the host software, positions itself to the exact location for the item to be picked and then lights up an integrated pick-to-light system so the employee knows exactly what and how many to pick while the software keeps track of inventory. Keeping counts consistent in the system so you know exactly what is in your supply chain just got a whole lot easier.
Now back to your greatest asset — your employees. Employees working with automated storage and retrieval systems see a built-in benefit contributing to lean initiatives everywhere: the system's ability to secure and control items until needed. Companies that need to keep tight control of inventory will be given security options including employee login, lockable bi-parting doors, and access restrictions/controls. You'll know who was logged in, what inventory was accessed and walk away at the end of the day with the peace of mind that comes with the ability to lock the system up. Storing items securely in a point of use system also contributes to the lean goal of reducing defective or damaged product, as well as reducing "shrinkage." Further options such as controlled temperature, refrigeration, clean room, and electro-static packages for sensitive items are also available.
Meeting Lean Needs
Because these systems help organizations meet the requirements for lean manufacturing and distribution, vertical and horizontal storage and retrieval systems are appearing in more organizations across the country, helping these companies become increasingly competitive. Although the systems are a capital acquisition, a comparison of the costs of a new system versus the cost of doing business with your current system can have measurable and verifiable positive returns. Consulting with an equipment specialist can provide you with a payback schedule for the installation; the internal rate of return/return on investment data will show you the dollar savings, and give you the data needed to get the project approved by your Chief Financial Officer!
How a horizontal carousel can serve multiple workstations for greater efficiency.
Horizontal carousels consist of an oval track with rotating shelves of various sizes containing items to be delivered to an operator. Often used in integrated workstations called a "pod," the carousels allow an operator to pick from one active carousel while the others are pre-positioning to be accessed the moment the employee is ready, often reducing floor space requirements by as much as 60 percent with throughput increases up to 600 percent.
The Vertical Lift Module, such as the Shuttle VLM, is an enclosed system of vertically arranged trays, extraction platform and computerized controls for automated retrieval of stored materials. It is constructed with modules that can be added or removed allowing users to change the unit's height and location with minimum downtime. Floor space savings up to 85 percent can be achieved. Another choice in automated equipment is the vertical carousel. Items from a vertical carousel are delivered via a system of vertically arranged carriers/shelf levels which rotate to present the items to the operator.
With many small parts and electronic component companies introducing lean initiatives into their business plans, automated storage and retrieval systems can play a key role by addressing more than just the "seven wastes." By maximizing available floor space usage, gaining better control over inventory, increasing employee safety and productivity, safeguarding sensitive items, reducing handling costs and "shrinkage," automated storage and retrieval solutions are a reality whose time has come for proactive companies looking to gain and keep future competitive advantages.
For more information, contact: Remstar International, Inc., 41 Eisenhower Dr., Westbrook, ME 04092
800-639-5805 or 207-854-1861 fax: 207-854-1610 Web:
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