November 29, 2001
It's hard to believe that machines such as press brakes and hardware-setting equipment can move around on wheels or be moved by forklift and still function correctly. But I can tell you from experience that it is true and can be done.
Think about the increased production that would be possible if one operator could manage two machines simultaneously. You could make it work simply by varying access to different pieces of equipment as needed anywhere in your facility.
Of course, some machines on the shop floor cannot be moved without serious effort and labor time. Those larger pieces of equipment by default become the central units with the mobile machines brought to them. These unmovable machines might be presses, punching cells, lasers, or robotic press brakes. The machines that are moved quite easily may include standard, smaller press brakes (6 feet and less), hardware machines, and grainers, to name a few.
But, you ask, how can one operator run two machines at once? Well they can't full-time. But it's very possible and productive on a part-time basis.
In today's high-tech shops, an operator spends a large amount of production time watching punches, lasers, or whatever machine is running. He really works only when his specific machine needs a new blank or when a finished part needs to be removed.
True, some of the operator's time is spent preparing for the next job or setup, checking dimensions, and recording statistical process control (SPC) charts, but those tasks rarely fill all of his idle time.
Now imagine that same operator being able simply to turn around to set some hardware pieces or make a couple of bends. The implications for your bottom line are staggering.
When you are first introduced to this concept, it is hard to imagine that it would be profitable to leave one machine idle even part of the time while a different machine is being operated, but herein lies the heart of lean manufacturing-it is, in essence, a value-added production.
Primary operators now can perform processes that once would have required secondary operators to perform, well, secondary operations. But when primary operators do the work, secondary operators are freed to work on other products or projects.
In reality, it makes little sense in today's economy to hire a full-time operator for each and every piece of equipment, assuming you could even find them. So what at first would not seem to make financial sense can and will increase factory throughput, production, and overall margins. Isn't that what lean manufacturing is all about?
Another good reason for investing time, effort, and resources in mobilizing equipment is cellular manufacturing. When your smaller machines are mobile, it becomes relatively easy to group them together into a cell around a punch press or laser. In this mode, an elite group of employees can work together on shearing, punching, graining, forming, setting hardware, and working through problems as they arise-basically building the complete piece, excluding outside processes. The implications for problem solving and process improvement are immense.
When the cell no longer is needed, it can be torn down quickly and reconfigured as a new cell and still be available as a stand-alone machine, if that best suits the production situation at that time.
One factor that might limit your ability to mobilize your equipment is the layout of your facility's power circuits. If you now have or are willing to install the appropriate power buses to make machine movement possible, you can achieve all of the benefits of cellular and just-in-time manufacturing, which comprise the heart of lean manufacturing.
To be specific, bus ducts are required. Bus ducts are necessary because long extension cords create a large amount of electrical resistance. An extension cord that is too long causes power losses from this resistance, so by the time the power gets to the hydraulic pumps and electric motors, you run the risk of prematurely burning up them and other equipment just from the power loss.
Most improvements and innovations require some investment. The small amount of capital required to mobilize equipment and to install proper power buses is nothing compared to the possible returns.
I have seen it in action, I know how well it works, and I'm convinced that you won't be sorry.