Stamping Supplier Integrates Reusable Shipping Containers Into Assembly

By working with one of their major customers to develop a just-in-time delivery program with reusable shipping containers, managers at South Charleston Stamping & Manufacturing (South Charleston, West Virginia) found that the same techniques could be applied to their in-house materials handling operations.

Case Study From: 9/15/1999 Modern Machine Shop

By working with one of their major customers to develop a just-in-time delivery program with reusable shipping containers, managers at South Charleston Stamping & Manufacturing (South Charleston, West Virginia) found that the same techniques could be applied to their in-house materials handling operations.

SCSM provides Mercedes Benz U.S. International, Inc. (MBUSI) with components and subassemblies for the new MClass All activity Vehicle program. SCSM operates a 922,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that is approximately 800 miles from the new MBUSI plant in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The company's large press room includes nine major press tandem lines with lead double action draw presses. A 60,000-square-foot die shop handles inplant engineering changes and preventative die maintenance, as well as small tool construction.

The company manufactures sheet metal stampings and subassemblies such as floor pans, firewalls and roof assemblies that are ready to go directly into the MClass vehicle assembly line at the new MBUSI plant. Because SCSM is a major supplier to the automotive industry, the on time delivery of large quantities of components is critical. Consequently, SCSM is a shipping oriented company, with a bank of various docks on the Kanawha River.

The company has been working with MBUSI in a different approach to shipping, using 45-inch long by 48-inch wide by 25-inch high and 45-inch long by 48-inch wide by 34-inch high ROPAK reusable, collapsible containers manufactured by LINPAC Materials Handling (Georgetown, Kentucky) to ship subassemblies on a daily, just-in-time basis in a closed loop truck transportation system directly to the Alabama facility. The high-density polyethylene containers are designed to hold large, bulky parts. Both sizes have hinged drop doors on two sides for easier access during loading and unloading, and fourway forklift entry for efficient handling. The 25-inch high models are green and the 34-inch high models are gray so there is no difficulty in telling them apart. The empty containers can be collapsed and stacked flat for storage and transportation.

"We ship about 40 containers per day," says Gary Casto, an SCSM industrial engineer. "We were pleased with the way the system worked and decided to try the containers in our own operation."

At SCSM, both sizes of containers are used to deliver stampings from the press room and progressive tooling operation to the assembly area.

Mr. Casto added that just-in-time delivery is a valid concept for in-house operations. "We've determined that using the same approach to deliver components to our own operations on a need basis saves time and helps improve throughput," he says.

In SCSM's internal materials handling system, stampings are delivered to the assembly area on a need basis. After the component parts are removed from the container, it is collapsed. The collapsed container is the signal to the lift truck operator to retrieve another full container from storage, deliver it to the assembly area, and pick up the collapsed empty container for return to storage.

The ROPAK containers used by SCSM in its manufacturing operation are color coded, just as are the containers used to ship parts to MBUSI, so that there is no confusion about the size of the container. "Each of our components has its own packaging specification," Mr. Casto says. "Included in that specification is the color code of the container to be used for materials handling purposes."

SCSM currently uses about 2,000 ROPAK containers, two-thirds of which are employed in the company's own manufacturing and assembly operations. The rest are used to ship parts to MBUSI. The containers have been integrated into the materials handling operation at SCSM for approximately a year.

"The primary benefit that we've found with these containers is that they can be collapsed and stored in a relatively small amount of space," Mr. Casto says. "The ratio is about 3:1, meaning that we can store three collapsed containers for every full container. We need less warehouse space than we would need for traditional types of containers."

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