Lean Manufacturing: Know Where to Upgrade

As fellow industry professionals increasingly push to become leaner, more competitive manufacturers, you might find yourself asking, “How can we make this operation or process better?” Engineers have the tools to recognize both logistical and safety concerns in our efforts to answer that very question. We hope to provide you with some direction to get you moving on the path towards a total material transport solution designed to enhance workplace safety and efficiency. If you’ve asked yourself anything close to the following questions, this blog is for you:

  • “It’s ridiculous that we always need two people to move this cart from Point A to Point B! But I guess a tag team is the only safe way to do it.”
  • “Using forklifts just to transfer product in process repeatedly from here to there seems like overkill. Is there something we can do, short of a full-blown automation project, to make this more efficient?”
  • “I need to put a machine over in Aisle F, but there’s no way to get a forklift in there to bring out a full chip cart once the machine’s producing. Now what?”
  • “I’m concerned about the long-term injury risks to my employees after watching them struggling with these carts on our bumpy floor, and then wrestling them up the ramp to the other production area.”
  • “We’ve got a great way to pull carts of raw product 500 feet from Building 7 over to our building for machining. But then the carts get dumped off in the aisle and it’s a huge pain to push them the last 50 feet over to the machine to get the work done.”

Inefficient protocols inhibit growth and workplace injuries harm people, cost money, and slow production, giving you every incentive to find solutions for questions like any of the above. The good new is, every one of those questions has a solution that can make your operation safer, faster, and leaner. Now where can you expect to make some changes?

Changes That Promote Safer, Leaner Manufacturing

When we enter a manufacturing plant or warehouse, we look at the entire operation for potential safety hazards, inefficiencies, and logistical problems. Every business is different, and every problem should be approached with the unique needs of the application in mind, however, here are some areas that we generally find to be in need of improvement:

Ergonomics in the Office: Prevent MSDs with Motorized Carts

  • Storage methods
  • Material transport
  • Operational strategy

The method of storing materials can sometimes hinder our ability to move them around the facility, or safely load and unload bays and shelving. Narrow pathways between storage mediums can inhibit the use of certain equipment, or require more tedious transport methods that slow productivity. Obviously, how we transport materials can impact the speed and safety of the overall system, and is usually the most glaring area of improvement in a plant or warehouse.

Finally, the overall operational strategy needs to be looked at in depth in order to help a business truly improve. Some businesses will opt for a completely automated overhaul with a multi-million dollar price tag, however, effective engineering can provide a simpler, much less expensive, operator-friendly approach that moves toward lean production without breaking the bank. For example, we often find that old equipment can be re-purposed or retrofitted, reducing waste otherwise sent to a landfill. Or, designing custom storage bins that properly insulate and protect materials can cut down on damaged product, reducing overhead costs and increasing output. The right ergonomic solution could be so much more involved than expected, and it’s important to consider all of the ways an operation can cut down on waste, increase efficiency, and lower overhead costs in order to become a safer, leaner company overall.

How to Evaluate Your Operation

motorized equipment trials for material handlingLike most people, you’ve probably begun your search for a solution on the web, possibly leading you right to this blog. Doing your research online can help give you a better idea of what’s out there, and we recommend taking a look at our online catalogue to gather more information about what operator-friendly, ergonomic motorized solutions look like. Once you’ve absorbed all the pertinent information the web has to offer, it’s time to call in the experts to make a proper evaluation of your facility, application, and process.

It’s not always feasible for a company to conduct the necessary safety and efficiency evaluations themselves. Luckily, consulting with an engineer can be a great way to have your entire operation investigated from top to bottom by someone with the necessary credentials for identifying storage, transport, and operational problems. We suggest having an engineer to tour your plant or warehouse to see the facility for themselves to understand the full scope of your needs.

Another option is to bring in a safety engineer. Sometimes, businesses choose to hire their own full-time safety engineers for the sole purpose of keeping their operation up to code, and insurance premiums down. Otherwise, it may be possible to contract with a safety engineer on a limited basis to get your company started off in the right direction. However, it’s important to note that a safety engineer’s strength lies in specifically identifying safety hazards and providing solutions to those hazards; additional engineers may be necessary to suggest further improvements designed to cut operational costs or improve efficiency.

For more information on consulting with professionals for the purpose of becoming a leaner and safer manufacturer, contact us through our Ask An Engineer portal. We are always happy to answer questions via telephone or email, or schedule a walkthrough of your facility.

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