Lean manufacturing seeks to make clear what adds value […]
Lean manufacturing seeks to make clear what adds value by reducing everything else. Lean is clearly not a fixed-point objective; accelerating global market competition of engine assembly line demands operational flexibility to achieve lean objectives. Here are five principles, applicable across every type of manufacturing, where flexibility can be added to an existing assembly line to eliminate waste and build quality into the system. 1.Make your machines do more Consolidating machine functions and using docking station architecture are two great examples of how to make your machines do more. Automotive exhaust system producers have been extremely successful at effectively implementing docking station architecture. Where they once created a dimensional gage, a leak test machine and a weld station for every part, they have now isolated uniform functions such as the programmable logic controller (PLC) and barcode reader, and placed them on a dock. Wheeled fixture stations are created for unique parts and hooked to the docks with quick connects. Significant waste is eliminated by retaining the docks through multiple part and fixture modifications. Helicopter powertrains were tested on dynamic test stands built for each unique helicopter. Today, the industry is moving to flexible designs with interchangeable gearboxes and dynamic motor configurations. Wheeled fixtures for pre-dressed test articles are also eliminating waste and improving quality. 2. Design for the future Though it’s not possible to accommodate all future production requirements, designing a flexible assembly line to accommodate future capability and adaptability will set you apart. A couple examples include an aircraft and a jet engine manufacturer. In the first example, an aircraft manufacturer was taking up to 70 hours to measure and cut doors and hatch covers. Rather than simply automate the cutting process, they instead chose to integrate a laser radar point cloud into a robotic cutting path. The current process takes less than 10 hours. Because they studied the process in its entirety, they now have future capability to precisely measure and cut doors for all future aircraft. In another case, a jet engine manufacturer needed to exponentially increase capacity. They began the process with an engineering study and simulation, which clearly identified potential bottlenecks and areas for functional consolidation. Again, their evaluation of the process as a whole has enabled them to create a plant operation that will be flexible for future engine designs. 3. Detach your factory from the facility The separation of plant infrastructure from machines and data is crucial. Some factories have gone so far as to remove all plumbing. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are a staple of material handling, but their use in manufacturing has only recently accelerated due to changing technologies. AGVs are a way to improve assembly line flexibility, improve quality and eliminate waste. Even manufacturers of very heavy equipment are using inductively powered AGVs. Generally assumed to require full tear-out, AGVs can in fact be implemented incrementally.