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Garnering Better Shop-Floor Workflow

How five shops have re-arranged their equipment array, and people, to expedite the flow of materials

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By Jake Widman

The lean manufacturing initiative was implemented fairly recently. "A year and a half ago, there was a lot of waste," recalls Wallace. The company had moved into a new building a couple of years prior, but operations were still departmentalized.

"Traditional manufacturing is all about batch flow," points out Wallace. You print a batch, move it en masse to the cutter, cut the batch, put it all in inventory, then pack up the batch when needed. "In lean thinking, inventory is evil," says Wallace. "You want to have single-piece flow rather than batch flow."

Greene supplies the details: "We looked at our processes and rearranged equipment out of functional cells into workflow centers. For example, what’s the next operation on items once they go downstream from the Thieme printer? We found that 80% of the time, the next operation was cutting. So we moved two cutters right next to the press. There’s no longer any cutting equipment in the previous cutting area." Their process analysis revealed that materials generally followed that same 80/20 rule: 80% of the material went to 20% of the equipment. So they tried to position the equipment to address the 80% and just deal with the other 20% as required.

Greene offers another example of repositioning equipment to support a single-piece workflow. "We sometimes make thousands of banners for a fast-food restaurant chain as part of our P-O-P business. The way we used to do the job was to print 2000 banners and take them to the hemming center on pallets, then to roping, then to the grommeting center, and then store them until the client wanted them. It was a 2-week process.

"Now, we print a banner, hand the item to the hemmer, then the roper, then the grommeter, and then it goes right to shipping. It takes us 3 days to complete the same order."

This single-piece orientation is affecting more than just the placement of equipment, says Wallace. "It’s also driving the move at Pratt away from screen printing and toward digital printing. That’s why our digital printing has grown over the past year and a half."