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Streamlining the factory

Streamlining the factory

Over the last five years we have been making significant alterations to the way our tools move through the production area in order both to simplify and speed up the process and rationalise stock in accordance with lean manufacturing principles.

To ensure that maximum efficiency was achieved, the entire process was examined from initial build to delivery to our customers and distributors. This began in 2010 with the intention to reduce our stock on hand, improve workflow around the factory and reduce kitting time and movement for the stores people.

We brought in a firm obsolescence policy and reduced stockholding by around £150k worth of parts, which gave us 12% more space to work with. All components were examined and moved into 'product families' by the rate of usage, so parts were stored where they were most commonly needed. This was a lean manufacturing benefit in that it meant a reduced amount of movement by the storespeople when kitting jobs.

Building works began early in 2012. Those of you who have visited our factory will know that it's not a built-for-purpose development; in fact part of the site began life as a tannery at the beginning of the 1800s, and has had various different manufacturing facilities over the years including at one stage an ice cream factory and store! We therefore have to work within the constraints of the site, which include a canal on one side and a narrow country lane which is our only access.

The area we were extending into was a disused courtyard containing a shed with the factory air compressors. The courtyard was cleared and the compressors were moved temporarily to the front of the factory in order to maintain air supply to the machines, and the new six metre high building was erected in the courtyard.

Towards the end of this stage, our new Kardex Remstar Shuttle XP Vertical Lift Storage System was put in place, as it would have been too large to install following completion of the works. In June 2012 the part stores moved into the ground floor of the new building. 90% of what was in the old part stores was transferred to the Kardex system, with the remaining material, mostly larger items, in racks round it. Our QA department  also moved in, as this area between the machine shop and the stores allowed for the most effective workflow.

The compressors were moved onto the top floor of the building. These units have a series of flaps which are used during the winter to harvest hot air to heat the building. A destratification fan in the roof pitch circulates the hot air from the top to the bottom.

That left the old parts store empty. It was decided to site our hugely popular TLS screwdriver range assembly in this area. Initially made with anodised aluminium handles, the moulded plastic version has become very popular, and for economy and speed of production it made sense to run the two assemblies in parallel. For both types, everything involved in the process from component assembly to finished product, including calibration and packing, takes place within this space, with all plastic and most aluminium components stored lineside. The manufacturing method for both types of screwdriver is the same, and assemblers can move from one to another depending on order volume.

Here, the screwdrivers are assembled to stage 1. The springs aren't loaded and the tools aren't calibrated, which means that they are as near to finished state as possible, but not committed to any particular customer and not wasting shelf life, which starts on calibration. This means that we can respond more quickly to urgent orders if and when necessary.

When an order comes in, the relevant screwdrivers are taken from the stage 1 rack at the end of the assembly area and calibrated. Aluminium screwdrivers are robotically calibrated and plastic ones are currently calibrated manually. They are then sent by roller conveyor to finished goods and packed for despatch to customers.

Nearly all of our stores updating project is now complete. We are about to install a roller conveyor between stores and wrench assembly in order to reduce storemen movement further there, and we are also looking at setting up a cell for some sub assembly work which was previously contracted out to a local prison as part of a rehabilitation programme. We are process mapping other assemblies to examine further potential for improvement, and we are constantly re-examining our procedures to ensure that we are as streamlined and efficient as possible.

These changes to our layout have resulted in a 30% improvement in kitting time and more time efficient stock control, which enables us to concentrate more resources on fulfilling our customers' orders and reducing lead times.

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