Kubota Industries: Installation Increases Efficiency at Tractor Manufacturing Plant

May 1, 2007
This case history about Kubota Industries comes courtesy of Unex. It has been selected and edited by the MHM editorial staff for clarity, content and

This case history about Kubota Industries comes courtesy of Unex. It has been selected and edited by the MHM editorial staff for clarity, content and style.

Quick Parts Picks from Unex Roller Racks Help Kubota Manufacturing of America Efficiently Produce Powerful Lawn Tractors, Zero-Turn Mowers, RTVs, Backhoes and Loaders

Parts Picks Were 7 Minutes...Now 19 SECONDS!

It's a daunting task keeping the assembly lines in two enormous buildings stocked with components for Kubota's celebrated rough terrain vehicles, lawn tractors, mowers, backhoes and loaders. An army of lift trucks is stacking, unstacking and moving pallets of parts from warehouse storage racks to 'line side' holding areas at the sprawling Georgia facility of Kubota Manufacturing of America (KMA) just north of Atlanta.

To Greg Allan, Kubota's supervisor of procurement materials, the picture was peachy. Demand for existing products was exploding along with orders for the company's new RTVs that are only built here but shipped worldwide. The plant was excited about the stepped up production. A third assembly building was under construction.

But now a different picture is emerging. Before new building 3 comes on line, the strain of the added output is compromising efficiency. Parts picks are averaging an unacceptably long 7 minutes each.

The parts storage and retrieval system needs a tune-up.

But that's no call for KMA's plant supervisors to panic. Making continuous improvements in a gradual and methodic manner is endemic to Japanese culture, and a concept known as Kaizan that has followed their plants overseas. According to Tony Bradley, KMA's Kaizan lead person, it is not simply about making improvements until an 'acceptable' level is achieved, but continually making improvements in an organized fashion over a relatively long time period.

Unex distributor ASI Handling System, a division of Air Specialists Inc. and a valued KMA supplier experienced in ergonomic solutions to the manufacturing industry, was asked to review the parts storage and retrieval routines and provide recommendations for improvements.

Mike Machado, sales manager, and Robbie Jones, sales consultant, studied how parts were warehoused and selectively brought to the assembly lines. They were convinced that a strategy combining both overhead pallet storage and ground level parts storage would result in quicker parts picks and substantial labor savings. Their plan proposed maximizing the storage density of the existing overhead bulk pallet areas and then placing bays of Unex Roller Racks on ground level, tucked within the pallet rack structure.

"A lot of lost production time is due to gathering the parts to put into the assembly line," says Jones. "Roller Racks bring the product to the operator in a visual, positive and ergonomic manner — the operator being able to see when product needs to be refilled. They make the work area neater and induce pride of production in the employees."

"There's great flexibility in this arrangement because if the space was needed again for bulk storage the Roller Racks could simply be rolled out and moved to another location," adds Jones. Also, Machado and Jones pointed out that with KMA employing various types of pallet storage racks throughout their facility the Unex Roller Racks could be quickly and easily reassembled — no hardware or tools needed — to suit a different storage pattern.

Although faced with a variety of choices from other suppliers, ASI Handling System's unique proposal was selected as the best solution for meeting immediate as well as future needs. "I looked at two other companies that had channel liners and plastic rollers," says Allan. "I didn't think the plastic rollers would last with the weight we would have to put on them." ASI Handling System's Jones agrees with that assessment and also mentions the safety benefits of Unex's Span-Track aluminum rollers: "You don't have to climb into the middle of a rack to fix a plastic wheel." Pipe type structures were also considered, but Allan rejected them outright.

"A similar size rack would take 4 hours to cut lengths of pipe and put together and if you didn't put on extra bracing it would collapse with our heavy totes containing welded components."

According to Bill Edgy, Unex's Southern Regional Manager, KMA placed an initial order for 20 Roller Rack units with Span-Track roller assemblies for Building 2. The units were assembled at KMA by their employees. Tony Bradley, KMA's Kaizan lead person, put many of the units together himself.

"One eight-foot assembly was about 20 minutes," he says. "One person could easily put Roller Racks together. Granted, two people make it easier," he adds with an exuberant grin.

Even before the initial installation was completed, however, KMA project engineers from Building 1 were 'peaking over the fence' to check out the new arrivals. Impressed with Roller Rack's versatility, they immediately placed orders for 35 additional units for their facility. A total of 55 units are now in operation between both buildings.

It's a vastly improved work flow now that Unex Roller Racks have been placed into service. "The 'pick efficiency' has increased substantially — now a lightning fast 19 seconds vs. 7 minutes," says Allan.

The redesigned parts storage and flow is enabling the highly skilled Kubota assembly technicians to easily achieve their production goals while awaiting completion of Building 3.

Robert Bone, KMA's supervisor of warehouse materials, looking out on bay after bay of Roller Racks, appreciates the increased number of parts that can now be quickly and easily picked and the greatly improved efficiency in material flow. "We can set individual Roller Racks free-standing on the floor at the assembly line areas too," he comments.

A significant benefit of the Roller Rack installation, explains Allan, is that "the same part, previously stored in five different locations throughout the plant, is now available in one spot, enabling the company to implement an orderly rotation of parts using the standard FIFO (first in / first out) inventory practice."

And that army of lift trucks patrolling KMA's wide aisled warehouse has now seen a reduction in strength by the elimination of three vehicles no longer needed, a significant savings in manpower hours.

According to Unex Manufacturing's information, Roller Racks are designed for quick, easy assembly and form bay after bay of efficient carton flow where parts and product are always easily reachable. They are comprised of ruggedly constructed 'mix & match' components to withstand the heavy duty, high volume pace of the manufacturing process and are backed by a seven year warranty. System components include slotted uprights, boltless beams and Span-Track full width aluminum roller flow track that are easy to insert or reposition within Roller Rack and provide the flow from load point to pick point for even hard to handle totes.

To customize Roller Racks for specific applications, a variety of accessories is available, including: galvanized steel add-on pick trays in depths of 12" and 15"; galvanized steel workbenches in 12" and 18" depths; label holders for SKU identification and infeed guides and guard rails.

With Roller Racks achieving critical success with KMA's parts storage and picking requirements in Buildings 1 and 2, discussions are already under way about placing these vital storage units in the new Building 3 as well.

Source: UNEX Manufacturing, Inc

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