For the management of a fiberglass and steel door manufacturer, taking their traditional East Coast manufacturing facility through a three-year Lean manufacturing process in order to re-engineer and improve their practices and workflow turned out to be a profit making investment. In fact, it actually led to additional and more creative income streams.
As a result of their efforts, when the Lean initiative was completed, the 200,000 square foot, 150-plus employee factory was able to re-gain use of storage space they no longer needed. The space, which was regained by implementing JIT manufacturing, allowed the company to use the space to add five new production lines. One line was a new finishing system, which included onsite production of oil-based stains and topcoats.
With the addition of the new line, productivity and safety in the stain-packaging process were of concern. The process included packaging each of the seven stains in eight ounce or one-gallon containers, along with a 20-ounce container of topcoat.
Several solutions were attempted. When the Lean Champion, Daniel Cummings became involved, employees were mixing 40-gallon batches of each stain in an open drum. Then, using an overhead pneumatic drum lifter, they would empty the drum, pouring 320 eight-ounce containers of that one color using a traditional batch and queue type environment. Lifting, straining, pinch points and spills during the pouring process turned out to be more than a potential safety hazard.
”The drum lifter spilled on the floor twice in the first three months of use,” says Cummings. “We decided to try a basic hand pump, but the time to change, clean, and re-attach the pump to the new barrel each time we changed stain colors was time consuming and inefficient. We knew there just had to be a better way.”
In an attempt to improve the process, they switched to a hand pump, which while very safe, delivered only four ounces of fluid with each stroke. Overall, it took 640 hand strokes to empty a 40-gallon container, and 2,560 strokes to fill the equivalent volume into the 20-ounce topcoat containers.
Once the 320 containers were filled, they were placed on rolling racks and moved to another part of the facility. The process required more than seven physical moves of each can to fill, stack, move, store, and pack the cans into their end-user packages. And often, there was a considerable distance between the pouring, stacking, and packaging locations.
Desiring a better solution, the employees envisioned a soda fountain type of system where workers could dispense the stains and topcoats when needed, at their point of use. Their research brought them to a multi-pump dispensing system that could do just that. Properly configured, the new pumps and tubing could handle the chemical composition of the stain, and the system allowed concurrent multiple liquid transfer pumping stations to operate from a single compressor air line with only 4 – 6 psi.
The system featured a regulator with a low-volume air pressure gauge, automatic external pressure relief at 6 psi, automatic shut-off, quick-connect air fittings on the manifold as well as on each pump. One-touch flow control at the workbench dispensed liquids at a controlled rate preventing waste, conserving inventory and producing the precisely measured amounts every time. Flow could be continuous, or adjusted to dispense liquids at rates up to 4.5 gallons per minute. The team also installed a pressure governor to add an additional level of safety.
When the pumping system was installed, it did exactly what was needed—the workers can now fill containers cleanly and efficiently with finger tip control of the remote tap. The drums of pre-mixed stain can be stored in the designated stain mixing room. Just outside is the filling bench with its rack system, which holds the taps for each stain. Once they are filled, the stain cans are loaded directly into adjacent storage bins ready for packaging.
“This pumping system has turned out to be a safe and smart solution for us,” says Cummings. “There is no pulsing, and at 4-gallons per minute, this is plenty of volume for our purposes. The proximity of the workbench and packaging area has reduced the number of times we handle the cans from seven to three, and the total travel distance was reduced by 190 feet.”
“We’re happy that we eliminated potential safety risks and improved the efficiency of the system. In fact, because of it, we’ve also reduced our space requirements, which allowed the company to add another production line, thereby increasing production capability and profitability of the plant. Since the pumping system is expected to last for 6 to 8 years, we have also improved our sustainability index.”