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Supporting Hands-Free Material Delivery

Geolean supports our clients by designing and installing systems that create flow. Flow of materials and information is the best way to create durable improvements in safety, quality, and productivity. Correctly designed flow systems improve operations today and build a platform for continued improvement.

All of that sounds good in theory, but how does it work in practice? Here’s an example of a recent project for a Geolean USA manufacturing client:

The Challenge

Every operation struggles with material flow, and the difference between a minor annoyance and a profit-killing obstacle depends on how well your system works. The simple goal is to get the right materials to the right place at the right time with the right information.

This particular client was installing a new line and wanted to reduce forklift traffic at the lineside. Materials at their existing line were delivered with forklifts and they knew it was dangerous and inefficient. The new line was an opportunity to change for the better.

They had heard about “hands-free” container delivery and watched videos online, but their own designs had not worked as planned. So, they called us to evaluate their operation and implement a functional system.

The Solution

After restricting forklift traffic to the warehouse only, the next step was to design the process to connect the round trip flow between the warehouse and the line.

Operators were involved in the process design so they could provide their insight, and so they would understand the goal.

The final solution used forklifts to move containers in the warehouse and to load delivery carts to be moved by a tugger. The tugger would then exchange full and empty containers “hands-free” at a flow station at the lineside.

Warehouse section view for Forklift Delivery

From Forklifts to Tuggers

The tugger route was designed to move four containers at a time, with full containers on the route to the lineside and empty containers coming back to the warehouse on the return trip.

This transition from forklifts to tuggers ensures there are no empty trips and improves safety at the lineside.

Workstation Design

All workstations should be designed as workflow stations. For this application, the workflow station integrated flow rack lanes to move containers between the aisle and the operator’s work area. The flow rack lanes were integrated into the operator’s station to combine better material presentation with the operator’s assembly activities.

Electrolux Concept Diagram

Step 1: Forklifts in warehouse load tugger train with containers full of materials.
Step 2: Tugger train delivers containers to the workstation.
Step 3: Tilt carts (in orange) engage with the conveyor to flow full containers into the workcell.
Step 4: Gravity flow conveyors index containers in place at the assembler’s work position.
Step 5: Assembly activity with materials in easy reach.
Step 6: Empty totes are moved to the return lane.
Step 7: The tugger train returns on schedule to drop off 4 full containers and pick up 4 empties.

The Advantages

This new hands-free delivery system designed by Geolean created a number of safety and efficiency improvements.

1) Safe Forklift-Free Material Delivery

Forklifts are confined to the warehouse. This minimizes safety risks while increasing efficiency.

2) Consistent Material Flow

Tuggers are able to deliver multiple containers at once and run on a scheduled route. This ensures material is always available for the assembler, supporting production.

3) No Wasted Trips

Forklifts driving around empty is a common, inefficient sight in operations that use forklifts for material flow. Using the tugger system to move full and empty containers in a delivery loop creates better flow and time utilization.

4) Hands-Free Delivery

The tilt table cart allows for a gravity-fueled, hands-free exchange of containers. The tugger operator and the assembly operator are not wasting time and energy moving boxes.

5) Safe Working Environment

Separating the delivery aisle and the lineside area creates a safe space for the operator, especially compared to the previous use of forklifts. The flow-based workstation design brings parts near the operator to eliminate reaching or straining.

This system was designed by Geolean to achieve our client’s goals. A safer, more productive environment was achieved by restricting forklift traffic and installing a hands-free delivery system.

The best part about this system is that it creates a starting point for future improvement. Smaller packaging, better flow, and combined delivery routes are all next actions to build a better system.

If you’re interested in learning more about flow solutions like this, or if you have a question about lean integration in your own facility, reach out to the Geolean USA team. We’re happy to help answer any questions or explain a little bit more about how lean works.

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