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The Million-Mile March -- To Get a Part.

By Ed Romaine

It's all about putting your hands on the part you need, when you need it, not later. And I guarantee that in 2006 you will have more parts to store in less space, and with less man-hours than you did in 2005.

Doing more with less - does this sound familiar?

As manufacturing and distribution professionals, we have to become more efficient. But we don't all have time to learn Six Sigma. Let's consider two aspects of production where gains can be more quickly achieved: floor-space utilization and organization.

Let's start with floor space. Where are your parts stored? Shelving, cabinets and drawers are the most likely locations. But while these types of equipment are common, they're rarely used efficiently. Look at the shelf heights in your facility. Did you know that by adjusting for wasted space between tiers, you can increase your space by up to 40%? Many facilities also have 20 ft. to 30 ft. above the storage equipment, meaning a total of up to 70% of cube space is wasted.

To recapture this lost space, consider an automated storage and retrieval system. This uses vertical storage space up to your ceiling, and can bring parts down to the operator. A vertical carousel or Vertical Lift Module (VLM) scans the height of every part and finds the least amount of space needed to store it. Modular units are available that can be moved and heights altered for future needs. Such systems save up to 85% of floor space and keep the operator at the workstation -not searching for parts.

Now let's move to organization. First, assess the jobs in your facility and the materials used. Then look at your activity report. If workers needing goggles also usually need gloves, for example, store them together. Likewise, store the #4 bolt near the #4 washer.

This common-sense strategy reduces operator walking and searching. But during the mad dash of the daily routine, items are often "just stored," and placement is ignored. Advanced controls and software can automatically determine most-used items and place them closest to pick windows, a functionality that is often integrated into host WMS or ERP systems.

Obviously, return on investment must be determined before making a decision to automate parts storage and retrieval. So do the math or let a vendor do it. You can plug in as few as 11 variables and quickly calculate the business value of automating versus not automating.

As you strive to maximize your floor-space density, you will also reduce labor and man-hours. Do not send floor operators out on the million mile march! Implement an automated VLM storage-and-retrieval system that delivers items to them. Your facility will run faster and more efficiently.

Ed Romaine is vice president of marketing for Remstar International, a Westbrook, ME-based provider of automated storage and retrieval systems. He invites readers of Suppler Strategies to contact him at .
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Publication:Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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