July 12, 2019
by Stephen Gibson
Process flow is a challenge in many industries. Airlines must find a way to direct luggage and passengers efficiently through the expanse of airports all around the world. The demands of the fast-food restaurant industries require them to get food to the customer in moments to prevent long wait times and traffic jams in the parking lot. Package carriers must get packages to the other side of the globe overnight in-order to remain competitive. Factories must find ways to handle the massive number of SKU’s to meet fastidious customers’ ever-changing demands for custom products at a low price. The most successful of these companies leverage the capabilities of Industrial Systems Engineers (ISE) to overcome these challenges.
The automotive industry is famous for continually decreasing costs. Customers often wonder “why are vehicles so expensive?” without considering that all of the additional safety and high-tech features are additional costs that must be offset to keep prices affordable.
One such case was an automotive interiors company in middle Tennessee. This company served as both a Tier I and Tier II supplier to a large OEM. This required that they supply both assembled and unassembled parts for use in three different vehicle models. One of the challenges was finding an efficient manner to flow these materials through the 100,000 square foot facility while reducing cost and not impacting production. Upon an initial assessment, it was determined that several issues existed.
The main root cause was a lack of material flow through the facility. Historically, the facility simply added more people and equipment to get the necessary product out the door. A work sample study was conducted to uncover twice as many material handlers were being used on each of the two shifts. This also meant the facility was leasing twice as much equipment as was required. This translated to over $400,000 annually in labor costs, “traffic jams” within the facility, plus increased safety risks as a result of too much equipment (i.e. accidents related to material handling equipment).
The ISE was able to develop a standard process using data from the study along with a simulation model to prove the new method would work without stopping the assembly process. Standard material handling routes were implemented along with standard processes for the material handling staff. Not only did this result in labor savings and improved material flow but also improvements to safety. While the initial study required more than 3 months to complete, the new process yielded an immediate improvement and contribution to the bottom line which the facility was able to continually recognize.