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Finding and removing the ‘obvious’

Updated: Nov 16, 2018

What’s happening here? A privately held manufacturer of automotive aftermarket bug deflectors, window guards, and visors cannot meet its customers’ increased orders. Several improvements were made, but none increased the total output of the plant. In fact, they only increased costs because additional operators were hired to run each added station or tool. What is preventing this manufacturer from increasing its production?

The Situation as observed on the shop floor:

All three products begin with a sheet of a specific plastic material and color, which gets machined to size by a CNC router or a manual router tracing a pattern. The sheets of material are stacked atop each other and must be unstacked to locate the desired material. The floor surrounding both the CNC and manual routers is covered by several inches of plastic chips. Loose chips can lodge between the cutter and the material and cause damage to the edge of the part. Once the plastic pieces are machined, they are stacked on pallets and fork-lifted to a second floor through an opening in the wall. The machined pieces are pre-heated in ovens, then vacuum formed and reheated to the final three-dimensional shape. Defects occur when loose material melts into the part while in the oven, or when the part is improperly placed on the mold. The formed pieces are then cooled and conveyed to the first floor for packaging. The finished pieces are packed in point-of-sale packaging with printed cardboard and sealed in heat shrinking plastic in a tunnel oven. They are then boxed and palletized.

The Findings

The real barrier to increased output is the packaging area, stifling the entire process. Although there are quality problems that need to be fixed in the main processes, these issues do not limit the production. In fact, the cutting and molding processes have available capacity and are balanced correctly with each other. However, the finished pieces are accumulating in front of the packaging area. A second tunnel oven had recently been added to the packaging area, but the back-up still persists and is becoming worse.

The Solution

The solution is to reconfigure the packaging area so that the operator spends more time packaging than walking. The solution is two-fold: Art Stout removed one of the 14 ft. tunnel ovens, an obstacle in the packaging area, and placed it in storage. He then reorganized the printed cardboard, boxes and packaging material and relocated those supplies in close proximity to the operators. If this had been done months earlier, the purchase of the second tunnel oven would not have been necessary. The operators now walk less to retrieve supplies and package more parts in less time.

The Results

The back-up in packaging was eliminated within two days after removing the second oven and reconfiguring the packaging materials. Overtime was cut.  The total output of the plant increased 33% as measured over the ensuing two months.


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