June 2012 | Case Studies | DC Solutions

Materials Handling: A Better View

Tags: Materials Handling

Visual technologies manufacturer Christie sees clear benefits from its new storage and retrieval system.

When it came time to expand its manufacturing facility's materials handling system, global visual technologies company Christie took a big-picture approach. With production already at capacity and limited room for expansion, Christie installed two Shuttle Vertical Lift Module (VLM) storage and retrieval systems from Kardex Remstar—recovering 70 percent of its floor space, doubling capacity, and cutting labor requirements in half.

Christie offers diverse visual display solutions for business, entertainment, and medical use. With more than 100,000 projection systems installed worldwide, Christie technologies include solutions for cinema, large audience environments, control rooms, business presentations, training facilities, 3D and virtual reality, simulation, education, media, and government.

The company's manufacturing facility in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, is the worldwide center for advanced manufacturing of all Christie projectors. With more than 200,000 square feet of production floor space and 600 employees, the certified ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 14001 facility houses top-of-the-line technology, equipment, and employees. The manufacturing process is based on the Kaizen Lean Manufacturing philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement processes and the 5S methodology.

Meeting Customer Needs

As Christie expanded into new markets and territories, the number of orders increased—and so did production requirements. All Christie projection systems are configured to order, but customers were also demanding quick delivery times. While increasing capacity, Christie sought to give its customers the best of both worlds: custom-built projectors with 24-hour order turnaround time.

To meet this goal, Christie needed to double the number of sub-assembled projectors kept on hand. Previously, the company maintained an inventory of 100 sub-assembled projectors, each stored on a two-foot by three-foot cart.

"To double inventory with the previous cart system, we would have had to expand the work area to make room for 200 carts on the floor, buy more carts, and hire more people," says Philip Hibberd, senior manufacturing engineer, Christie.

Taking a closer look at material flow throughout the manufacturing process, it was evident to Christie that expanding the work-in-process area with carts would not fit the lean manufacturing philosophy it had worked so hard to achieve. Christie looked for a solution that provided increased capacity, required less floor space, and created more efficiencies.

After extensive research, Christie implemented two Shuttle XP VLMs. Each currently holds 100 sub-assembled projectors, with room for more, which allows inventory to increase based on sales projections.

Including the work aisle, each Shuttle VLM occupies only 180 square feet. Compared to the 600 square feet occupied by the previous cart system, the new equipment provides a 70-percent floor space savings.

Adding the second VLM allowed Christie to double capacity and only occupy an additional 180 square feet. "We used the recovered floor space to expand the sub-assembly process from six assembly stations to nine," notes Hibberd.

Ergonomics and Safety

With each projector weighing approximately 52 pounds, worker ergonomics and safety is a concern. "The projectors are heavy, and lifting them puts employees at risk of injury and projectors at risk of damage," says Hibberd.

The carts previously used for projector storage had to be shuffled around if workers needed to reach one in the back. Employees were pushing and pulling carts all day long, leading to fatigue. Hoists were available to move projectors from a workstation to a cart and vice versa, but not all employees used them.

Each VLM is equipped with automatic tray extraction, and a hoist is mounted at the access point. The projectors are stored close together on the trays, making it difficult to access the sub-assembled projectors without using the ergonomic hoist.

Once the tray is delivered to the access opening, it is automatically pushed onto an extraction table for easy access.

The Shuttle VLM provides a 70-percent floor space savings compared to the 600 square feet Christie's previous system occupied.

When a projector is ready for picking, the operator uses handheld controls to position the hoist near the desired projector, hooks the hoist onto the projector, lifts it into the air, and lowers it onto the cart.

The operator confirms the pick, and the tray returns into the VLM. The worker then unhooks the projector from the hoist and wheels the projector to a work table nearby.

Improving Efficiencies

With Christie's old system, picking and finishing the sub-assembled projectors required four workers. Using a first in, first out (FIFO) picking strategy, it took workers an average of 15 to 20 minutes to find a specific projector.

"The sub-assembled projectors all look the same, so workers had to check each serial number until they found the correct one," says Hibberd.

With the VLMs, only two workers are required, and the system delivers projectors to them in less than one minute. Christie is now able to retrieve the projectors more than 90 percent faster, using half the labor.

The VLMs have also allowed Christie to vary labor requirements based on demand. When orders increase at the end of the month, the company can add workers to the VLM area quickly and easily. Variable labor provides Christie increased productivity when needed to meet higher demand.

The Final Stages

After projector models are sub-assembled and tested, they are delivered to the Shuttle VLM work-in-process area for storage. Projectors are received into the VLM inventory, and stored by serial number and sub-assembly date so they can be easily identified for FIFO picking later in the process.

Customer orders are received and processed using Oracle's JD Edwards software, then sent to the FastPic inventory software that manages the VLM workstation. The operator in the work-in-process zone is tasked with identifying the correct sub-assembled projector by serial number, finishing the assembly work, and delivering it to final electrical testing.

After testing, workers apply UL-approved labels and move the projectors to shipping, where they are sent out to meet the 24-hour turnaround time customers expect.

"The VLMs fit nicely into our facility's lean flow," says Hibberd. "From sub-assembly to testing to storage to configuration to verification testing to shipping, we strive for a lean process. The VLM helps cut wasted time and effort from our materials handling process."