LEAN Manufacturing: Wasted Movement is the Silent Killer

So often we jump in to complete tasks reactively and neglect to realize that the process is, in actuality, unreliable. This came to mind as we did some spring cleaning and maintenance with our building this past week and noticed an eager student painter. The young painter grabbed the brush, climbed the ladder and applied three brush strokes to the wall. Emptying the brush, the painter scampered down the ladder, dipped the brush in the paint and repeated the process.

Student painter. (Photo credit: collegeprosucess.com) 

This happened at least eight more times before the supervisor stop to ask what she was doing. The supervisor said painting with the can of paint on the floor while the work was 10 feet above would take more than three hours, instead of the 45 minutes projected for the job. Of course, simply moving the can of paint to the top of the ladder would remove the wasted movement and create a reliable, efficient process. Movement that does not add value is waste.

The Problem with Wasted Movement

Whether it is the painter going up and down a ladder to get more paint or workers on your company’s plant floor walking extra steps for materials, the time spent not doing the actual work is wasted movement. The ramifications go beyond taking longer to accomplish a task. Excessive and repetitive motion has the potential to damage equipment and cause injury

In many assembly lines, carts and walkies deliver material to the line more frequently to ensure there are enough materials for each product model manufactured. The constant stopping, starting and positioning increases the need for maintenance due to wear. Furthermore, once the materials are delivered, workers on the line reach and bend for the materials. This repetitive action over the course of a shift adds to the likelihood of musculoskeletal injury and workman’s comp costs. Both examples highlight the need to eliminate wasted movement.

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The infrastructure of today’s manufacturing line, even with lean principles applied, continue to promote unnecessary and wasted movement. Many lean factory operations are designed to ensure the proper flow of materials along with communication between workers and the information available. This layout has the typical components of a factory (i.e.: receiving, inventory, bench assembly area, automated production, finished goods packing, and shipping). All of it is connected through a material flow source, which in lean, may include an Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV) system.

An AGV system may improve lean efficiency when compared to using workers to deliver materials. However, this dated technology still fails to meet lean ideals for two main reasons:

Example of a traditional, dated AGV following magnetic tape. (photo credit: AGV solutions)

  1. The AGV system requires a fixed infrastructure. It must travel to every location on it path. As a result, the distance travelled is greater than necessary (the entire route versus point to point). 
  2. Operators, the bench assembly, automation cells, etc. also move more than necessary. These workers must go to the materials drop-off point for each cell to retrieve material from the fixed path of the AGV creating additional wasted movement.

AGVs may have started on the right path (pardon the pun), but new technology has surpassed it.

Then How do we Eliminate Wasted Movement?

Photo credit: www.industry.siemens.com 

New technologies will power the factory of the future with lean capability. The self-driving vehicle or SDVs for instance offer capabilities to eliminate wasted movement in today’s factories and add productivity. Here are two quick examples.

New technologies will power the factory of the future with lean capability. The self-driving vehicle or SDVs for instance offer capabilities to eliminate wasted movement in today’s factories and add productivity. Here are two quick examples.

SDVs are unique in the industry because the units have no need of magnetic strips or pre-programmed routes. Its mapping software allows it to plot the best route. Put simply, it will take the required material from point A to point D without travelling to points B and C. No wasted movement involved.

The other example demonstrates improvement in how the materials are delivered.  As mentioned, AGVs cannot travel anywhere; rather, they must stay on its fixed path. The SDV is a different story. It will take the materials for a manufacturing cell and deliver it into the cell itself. More than that, it already knows the preference of the worker (i.e. right or left handed) and delivers the materials to that preference.

Eliminating wasted movement and fulfilling the productivity promise of lean manufacturing is within grasp when using SDVs to help with your company’s material handling. Learn how SDVs will turn your process into a lean one in the webinar below.

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