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5S, D.I.Y. & AGVs


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Several years ago, I worked at an ad agency. One of our clients manufactured industrial storage racks. This stuff was sturdy, robust. In order to convey this in a pithy, memorable way, one of the headlines we came up with for an ad was: "Rack of Ages." Today, we might borrow from the Chevy truck ads and proclaim: "Like a Rack." These things were built to take it.

Meanwhile, over in Japan, the approach being taken was far less monumental. That is, in U.S. facilities racks were meant to stand approximately forever. After all, these things were to be loaded up with inventory—and lots of it. There was (and is) more of a frugal approach in the Japanese facilities, as in having a calculated amount of materials on hand. Instead of having massive, heavy-gage racks, there are often lighter, more right-sized systems.

One manufacturer of these racks, which has been supplying its product in Japan for a number of years, is offering it in the U.S. The company is Creform Logic-Tech Corp. (Farmington Hills, MI). And not only does the company promote its products in terms of the technical specs, but it also points out that their structures can help companies implement the Five S philosophy, which they render as Straighten, Standardize, Shine, Sweep, and Sustain.

Essentially, Creform consists of a series of plastic resin-coated steel pipes, joints, wheels, totes, hinges, latches, and other elements that can be assembled into a wide variety of material handling devices, including hinged shelf carts, tilting flow racks, roller conveyors, workstations and much more.

With the Creform approach, users don't buy completed products so much as they buy a box of parts that look like something that you might find at a Home Depot store—but in this case, it is industrial strength.

The systems can be produced by the users. Equip-ped with a hack saw or pipe cutter to size the pipes and a wrench to tighten the hex bolts used for the joints and accessories (unless plastic joints are used, in which case an adhesive is applied), people can quickly make what they need in the way of material handling devices. There's flat-sided pipe for the crea-tion of units with shelves. There are bearings that can be fitted into the ends of pipe sections that allow the manufacture of gravity feed racks and conveyors. It is very much a D.I.Y., or do-it-yourself, approach.

One auto plant that has implemented the Creform system is using it for things including a cart for moving door assemblies, a tool rack, a tilting point-of-use conveyor/part presentation system, and a part presentation carousel. They estimate cost savings ranging from $103 to $1,026, essentially deriving from the reduced time and labor required to set up these structures.

What's more, they lend themselves to reuse, so initial investments can actually pay off in follow-up applications, too.

Another automaker is using the system in an engine plant to handle castings. The setup in this case is one that has been modified so that instead of having a large number of castings in a container that require a forklift for transfer from the loading dock to the machining area, smaller plastic bins containing an ergonomically correct number of castings are loaded and transferred via carts and conveyors built with Creform. Now there is visual management of approximately two-hours worth of stock on hand.

Two points about this application: One is that the system is capable of handling loads. Second is that it facilitates the implementation of JIT or lean production methods.

One of the more recent developments out of Creform is a variation on an automated guided vehicle (AGV). They're calling it an AGC, for automated guided cart. The AGC can be provided with drives that handle 500 or 800-lb. loads. They can be engineered so that their overall size fits the requirements, which not only means that they can be comparatively compact, but that they can also be built up vertically so that there are a series of shelves.

The guidance of these units is based on the use of a magnetic induction sensor that follows a self-adhesive magnetic tape placed on the floor. In order to get the units to slow down, stop, or move to the left or right, pieces of tape are placed in patterns perpendicular to the guide tape.

The ACG can be equipped with an infrared obstacle sensor, a bumper unit with collision switch, traveling music, and more.