Evaluating Equipment In New Ways

Your first steps on the lean manufacturing journey are typically taken with existing equipment in tow. As you continue down the path, though, make sure that your new equipment purchases support the lean initiatives you hope to sustain.

Lean discussions typically cover manufacturing methodologies, strategies and approaches that will hopefully reduce wasteful actions. They should. I’d argue, though, that it’s just as important to address equipment in lean conversations and Kaizen events.

Unless you’re starting a new shop with a clean slate and an empty facility, you’ll implement lean based upon equipment already in place. You’ll think about ways to make your resources work more effectively and function in concert with each other to eliminate that which does not add to customer value. However, business conditions may improve to the point where you simply need to add capacity. Or, perhaps your continuous improvement efforts are unearthing strikingly wasteful processes inhibiting smooth work flow. At that point, decisions about what types of machine tools and other shop staples must be made. How you evaluate and ultimately choose that equipment should be different now that lean is your driving force.

Consider machine tools. You may start looking more closely at their size, for instance. Compact machines offer lean advantages in that they consume less floor space and are relatively easy to maneuver into cells as needs change. Similarly, multitasking machines can free floor space because one machine can do what would normally take two or more. Plus, it’s possible that they can reduce work in process and part travel within a shop because parts can be machined complete. The same can hold true when indexing units are used to turn a three-axis machine into a four- or five-axis machine. Complete part machining may be possible.

Equipment that can reduce setup times should be targeted. For example, alternate workholding devices such as magnetic and vacuum chucks can secure parts after a flip of a switch. Likewise, workpiece pallet systems allow quick, repeatable positioning of parts on a machine table. Even machine tools can provide setup benefits. Machines with dual pallets enable a new job to be fixtured on one pallet while the machine cuts parts on the other one.

My point here is not to provide an exhaustive list of related examples that demonstrate how the right type of equipment can help reduce waste in a shop. However, when a major bottleneck to the value stream is spotted, consider whether a new type of equipment might be the way to improve process effectiveness. Let lean shape your purchasing decisions.