Cost-Cutting Idea File

Nov. 1, 2001
Here are some great examples of how material handling equipment, systems and software are solving practical throughput, ergonomic and inventory control problems.

Cost-Cutting Idea File

Work Platform Safely Moves Missiles

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control develops, manufactures and supports advanced weapon systems. Lockheed Martin’s customers include the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps; and foreign nations approved by the U.S. State Department.

Lockheed Martin’s Pike County Operations in Alabama has conducted final assembly, testing operations and storage of anti-armor missiles such as the helicopter-launched Hellfire II, the shoulder-fired Javelin, and the radar-guided Longbow Hellfire. The facility also assembled the Patriot air defense missile and the medium-range air-to-ground AGM-142 missile used during Desert Storm. In August 1999, Pike County Operations started performing final missile assembly and testing of Joint-Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM). JASSM is a long-range, conventional, air-to-ground precision missile designed to destroy well-defended, high-value targets.

Plant equipment includes a master computer that manages and coordinates energy use, temperature and humidity conditions, fire detection and security. A special system automatically warns of approaching storms with potential lightning strikes. Digital communications support administration and internal security while providing instantaneous access to state and local emergency agencies. The facility also includes automated assembly lines that virtually eliminate manual missile handling.

In preparing for the JASSM missile project, Michael P. Goeb, director of major projects for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Controls, had to determine the best method to move missiles out of the production area and into a testing chamber.

Goeb says, “Initially, our plan was to move the missiles horizontally into the chamber with an overhead crane. Then, the missile would be placed on a lift that would move it vertically to a designated testing station. This initial concept, however, proved to be too costly and inefficient.” Goeb and his team then began to design a more cost-effective, practical and safer solution.

Working with Pflow engineers, Lockheed Martin developed a new concept to move the missiles. Safety was a primary design objective — given the sensitive nature of the product that was being transported. A specialized platform was designed to move a missile horizontally into the chamber and then vertically to the designated test station. The final concept required approximately four months to develop.

Lockheed Martin requirements meant that the system had to be stable, safe and capable of accurately positioning the missile for critical testing procedures. In addition, the platform had to accommodate repetitive points of loading and unloading with fractions of an inch variation. Vertical and horizontal control tolerances were critical.

To transport the missile, Pflow designed a 6,500-pound-capacity work platform that travels laterally on 18-inch wheels via a gear-and-pinion line shaft drive. The platform measures approximately 20 feet by 20 feet and weighs more than 28,000 pounds. The platform travels on a rail system, recessed into the floor. The platform meets OSHA and Lockheed Martin safety standards associated with handling explosive devices as well as for personnel safety while riding the platform.

When a missile comes out of production, it is placed on the work platform. The platform then moves horizontally on the recessed rails into the test chamber. Once inside the chamber, the platform and missile are raised vertically 20 feet to a designated testing station. Vertical travel of the platform is controlled via screw lifts mounted inside the platform columns. All services, including power, communications and data, are provided by retractable reels. After missile testing is completed, the platform is lowered and backed out of the chamber.

Horizontal and vertical positioning of the platform is accurate to within one-eighth inch.

Large-capacity work platforms by Pflow Industries.

New Packaging Protects Closets

Nearly three years ago, Bill Burke and John Jaworski formed a company called Contemporary Closet Classics in Millington, New Jersey. The company offers high-quality closet organizers that are custom designed to fit a customer’s needs and preferences.

In 1999, Burke and Jaworski founded to supplement their brick-and-mortar business. showcases more than 700 closet organizing designs in its online catalog. This enables customers to design their own closets and, once their designs are complete, order the material. Online customers also may download and fill out the fax form with basic information about their existing closet.

The material for an system is a variety of lengths of durable wood particleboard with laminate film; chrome, brass or steel wardrobe rods, drawer pulls and wire baskets; and the elements needed to install the system. The particleboard shelving and drawers are extremely heavy, and can be chipped easily if dropped during shipment. In addition, the smaller, polished accessories can be scratched if not properly protected.

With their first orders, Burke and Jaworski used corrugated corner pieces, loose packaging peanuts and a lot of duct tape. They discovered, however, that shipments were damaged due to a lack of proper cushioning.

Burke and Jaworski called their shipping company and were put in touch with Max Fessler, a packaging consultant and president of Packaging Solutions Inc. Following his analysis of the products’ weight and how it was shipped, Fessler recommended custom corrugated containers that fit a maximum of three shelves. He also recommended Instapak packaging system for the closets and Bubble Wrap cushioning for wrapping and protecting the closet hardware.

Burke and Jaworski installed a SpeedyPacker foam-in-bag system and an Instapak molding wheel. This system utilizes foam that was designed for large, heavy, bulky products — providing maximum protection with minimum weight and size. Two mold inserts were created to accommodate all varying sizes of shelves — one mold for end caps and one mold for side pieces.

The corrugated containers were redesigned to accommodate the molds, which helped to keep within the shipping company’s weight limitations.

Finally, switched to using bubble cushioning for protecting the hardware, such as drawer facings, drawer pulls, wardrobe rods, etc.

Now when an order comes in, customizes the closet pieces and determines the number of items being shipped. The packager creates the desired number of end caps and side pieces needed by using the foam-in-bag system and molding wheel. The molds are then placed on the shelving units, and the entire piece is placed in a corrugated box for shipping.

For the smaller items, uses bubble packaging to protect and cushion the items. The packager simply pulls the cushioning from the roll across the packaging station, places the items on top of the cushioning, and then folds the items until they are protected.

The most immediate change was efficiency. Packaging the custom closets for shipment using the foam-in-bag system and molding wheel was 75 percent faster than the previous method. And the packaging material can be produced right at the station, as it is needed.

With the new packaging, is able to ship more orders in the same amount of time and use the same number of employees. There is no longer a need to customize each corrugated container — they now have six sizes of boxes that accommodate any order. Another more dramatic improvement is the reduction of damage costs and refunds. Damage to shipped orders is virtually eliminated.

Finally,’s customer satisfaction increased. Not only do customers receive their closet systems intact, but with the use of bubble cushioning they no longer have to fish around for drawer pulls or other hardware that was lost among the loose-fill peanuts.

SpeedyPacker foam-in-bag system, Bubble Wrap cushioning and Instapak packaging systems by Sealed Air Corp.

Thermal Doors Improve Dock Safety

“When it comes to opening a dock door, nothing beats up a door faster than using a lift truck to pry the thing open,” said John Mays, warehouse maintenance supervisor for Spartan Store’s distri-bution center in Byron Center, Michigan.

Mays’ observation sums up why Spartan is switching its dock doorway coverage in its 250,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse to Thermalweight dock doors.

In his many years as a warehouse maintenance supervisor, Mays has seen the many ways that a lift truck can cause door damage, including punched-in panels, bent tracks, and guide hardware ripped off the door. Spartan’s busy operation cannot tolerate the loss of even one of the 16 freezer doors on its shipping dock.

Cold storage demands a tightly sealed doorway. Rather that resisting a collision as a standard door does, the Thermalweight door knocks out of its guide track upon impact. The door is guided on rugged 3/4-inch steel pins in a heavy-duty Impact-A-Track plastic track.

The gasket is attached to the door panel. When the door is opened, the seal is pulled out of the way of traffic. The negative pressure on a cold storage dock draws the door against the guide tracks, creating a tight seal.

The seal is important to keep high energy expenses in line, but it is also important for safety at Spartan Stores. During the summer, dock floors can get slippery when humidity hits the cold air. The seal reduces the infiltration.

The door panels with the gasket are insulated and four inches thick, offering the same R-25 energy loss protection as that offered by a standard cold storage wall.

The new doors have cut dock damage, reduced maintenance, and saved on energy costs.

Thermalweight dock doors by TKO Doors.

Sideloader/Narrow Aisle Layout Consolidates Storage for Window Maker

Winco, a Midwest window manufacturer based in St. Louis, Missouri, produces 15 standard window shapes in addition to a large number of custom window designs. The firm stores 22-foot lengths of aluminum extrusions used in window production in its warehouse and ships finished product both to building sites and customer warehouses from its production facilities.

As the production of window types increased, it became clear to Winco that it was less expensive to implement a high-density, narrow-aisle storage facility than to increase building size. Narrow-aisle, a configuration that can increase storage density by as much as 30 percent to 50 percent, was coupled with the Drexel sideloading Model LLH-40.

Prior to installing the narrow-aisle system, Winco used a conventional rack/lift truck combination that necessitated floor storage of bundled extrusions.

In the reconfigured facility, there are 10 rows of rack, including seven rows of cantilever rack and three rows of vertical storage rack. Aisle widths have been reduced from 13 feet to 89 inches. Storage locations are established by volume with frequent movers nearest the destination points.

Frank Brodeur, material manager at Winco, estimates that inventory accuracy has improved to 75 percent to 85 percent.

Brodeur estimates that the time savings of locating and transporting aluminum extrusions from storage to production with the new sideloader and rack system amounts to at least 50 percent, simply because it doesn’t have to move floor-stored product in order to reach its target load.

Drexel provided training on two separate occasions. Training was an important aspect of this installation to Winco because it included an entirely new piece of mobile equipment activity than it was used to. It was less than a week until the operator was proficient with the truck.

The high-density storage has improved inventory accuracy by 75 percent and slashed product delivery time 50 percent.

LLH-40 Long Load Handling sideloader by Drexel Industries.

Ergonomic Design Saves on Assembly Line

The engineers and health & safety staff at Lucent Technologies in Columbus, Ohio, understand the importance of ergonomic design for both productivity and health and safety. Teaming with Humantech ergonomists, the company installed a new assembly line that reduces ergonomic risk for the operator and product build time.

In late 1999, due to the nationwide increase in the volume of cellular phones, Lucent planned to ramp up production of an amplifier used at its mobile telephone base stations. The ultralinear amplifier weighs 35 pounds and had an assembly time of 40 minutes per unit. The process flow consisted of five different subassembly stations and a transfer cart. With increasing volumes, there were concerns about production yields as well as ergonomic challenges. Process engineers recognized the need to promptly redesign the operation.

After identifying the line’s challenges, engineers and staff enlisted Humantech’s help to define project goals and manage implementation. The team applied ergonomic guidelines to eliminate heavy lifting, manual manipulation, etc. The final design includes articulating arms for line loading and a custom conveyor that integrates with workstations.

After the initial equipment review, it was clear that modifications were necessary. Additional vertical supports were added to workstations, and air-lift ball transfers and rollers were added to work surfaces.

When all modifications were made, the workstation components were shipped fully assembled and installed in place. Some of the final modifications included workstation-mounted lighting, and easily adjustable footrests.

The new assembly line reduces build time and improves first test yields. It is estimated that the new line will save about $1.2 million per year.

Ergonomic design by Humantech.

Roll Cradles Cushion Roll-Up Doors

When BETCO Inc. of Statesville, North Carolina, decided to add a roll-up door line, it discovered a better packaging method in the process. The company, which manufactures self-storage buildings and general-purpose buildings, began producing roll-up doors for its self-storage buildings in August 2000, and has since begun selling them to other companies.

Because the roll-up door line was new for BETCO, the company needed to find a way to package the doors for shipment. The packaging had to work on a flatbed trailer so that the doors could be shipped with the rest of its products. Other door suppliers were using metal banding and lattice structures made from nailed-together lumber for packaging and shipping. But BETCO wanted to find an easier, more economical method.

While searching for a solution, BETCO’s purchasing manager discovered Rollguard Products on the Internet. The initial idea was to use foam roll cradles as a cushion between the doors. Rollguard recommended its Fiberstax recycled fiber roll cradles instead.

BETCO uses FS-13-1/2 roll cradles. They feature a three-roll configuration, are 44 inches long to precisely fit the width of BETCO’s pallets and come shipped in hinged pairs. The cradles are split apart and set widthwise on the pallet to hold the first layer of three doors in place. Additional cradles are then folded back-to-back along their hinges to create two-sided cradles that enable the stacking of the second through fourth layers of doors. More cradles are then split apart and laid upon the top layer of doors to hold the fifth and final layer in place, and the entire load is then stretchwrapped vertically. By stacking five layers high, the company can ship 15 doors per pallet.

To ensure maximum stability in stacking this high, slight design modifications were made to the cradle. The roll-up self-storage doors are not perfectly cylindrical. Because of the thickness of the door, there’s a defined end to the roll that makes it out of round; that created some challenges. Additional spacing makes the cradles higher and wider. Additional thickness accommodates the heavier product.

The greater thickness of the hinged cradles led to an additional challenge. “We use a hoist to load our doors on the pallet,” said Neely Cunningham, BETCO purchasing manager. “When we folded a cradle and set it down on top of the previous row to start another row, there was too much memory in the hinge, and it would unfold before we could get the next door swung over with the hoist. So we either needed an extra person to hold it down, or we had to tape it in place until we could bring another door over, which meant we lost productivity. Rollguard added a bigger perforation in the hinge, and that solved the problem.”

Recycled Fiber roll cradles by Rollguard Products.

Mobile Flow Racks Slash Cost, Time

Lithonia is the nation’s largest manufacturer of lighting products, offering thousands for residential, commercial and industrial applications. It was the number and variety of products that challenged Six Sigma project manager Willie Johnson when he looked to improve assembly line productivity at the company’s plant in Cochran, Georgia.

Lithonia was using a conveyor assembly line that incorporated fixed-place flow systems and full pallet stations. Over the past few years, customer demand for greater product variety, style and function changed product assembly requirements from an ongoing operation with few changeovers to one that was interrupted with many changeovers. Johnson decided that one way to meet the changing requirements of the production process was to switch from fixed racks to a mobile rack system that would offer increased flexibility in setting up and modifying assembly operation.

Johnson contacted Georgia Storage Systems, Keneco’s distributor in Atlanta, and mobile racks were installed on the Gotham Downlight GRSF/AFV product line. This line, under the direction of line supervisor Geneva Tinsley, assembles more than 50 models of Lithonia’s Vertisys lighting fixture. The new mobile racks provide new flexibility in moving material in and out of the assembly line, allow parts to be positioned closer to the operators, and offer better identification methods for part location. In addition, if the GRSF/AFV product were to be built on a different assembly line within the plant, the mobile flow system could be moved easily to the needed line.

“The use of mobile racks reduced staging time by 20 percent to 25 percent and, because of better positioning on the line, increased assembly efficiency as well,” according to Johnson.

Adds Tinsley, “Another benefit not to be overlooked is the ease with which the plant floor can be cleaned, improving the workplace environment.”

“Keneco’s mobile flow racks are a great concept for manufacturing that involves high-volume changeover rates such as those on our GRSF/AFV assembly line,” concludes Johnson. “It’s a concept that we can spread across the plant, simplifying the process of changing from order to order when different parts are required.”

Mobile flow racks by Keneco Inc.

Retrofit Puts AGVS Back in Service

A U.S. cable manufacturer had an obsolete AGV system that was no longer in operation. The system was originally installed to transport heavy wire spools through the manufacturing and distribution process. The company could no longer get spare or replacement parts, and the system was

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