Managing Maximum Modularity  

Research Title: Managing Maximum Modularity

Research Category: Conveyor System

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Researchers: Dynamic Conveyor
Location: Michigan, United States

Research Details

Managing Maximum Modularity

An exacting preventive maintenance (PM) program helps CAPS Inc. (Bridgeton, MO) to achieve a reject rate of less than .1% for the 1 billion or so caps and components it molds every year from the estimated 100,000 lb worth of materials it runs every week.

A modular, interlocking parts conveying system from Dynamic Conveyor Corp. (Muskegon, MI) called DynaCon has become essential to the company’s PM-based QC program, according to Brett Huster, engineering manager.

“Our DynaCons addressed a lot of problems we had to deal with,” he says. “The heavy, old, fixed-length metal conveyors we used to use in the shop were damaging our parts. Many of the parts we run are small, thin-wall, close-tolerance, and skirted.

“Some have wall sections that are .005 inch thick or less and those types of parts are hard to keep out of places where they shouldn’t be. They tended to get hung up in the flights of our old conveyors, or they’d get pinched in between the belts and we were stuck with it.

“We don’t have those problems anymore. We just change the sides, flights, and belt styles whenever we want. That’s the original reason we bought the DynaCons, but we’ve found that the benefits they provide multiply way beyond that.”

Lean PM

Even though PM is key to CAPS’s QC program and even though it employs 120, Huster surprises us when we ask the size of his PM crew.

“It’s just two guys and me in maintenance. Monday through Saturday, I work about 50 hours, and my guys work about 40 hours. A lot of our PM is done by the supervisors on the floor. But every day we go through 250 checks throughout the operation—things as simple as machine temperatures. It only takes about 2 hours a day to do it right.”

Since initiating its extensive PM program, Huster says that the ratio of scheduled maintenance work hours to emergency maintenance work hours has been cut from 1:1 to 15:1.

“We try our best to find problems before they have time to get big. We fix a lot of baby problems. But, of course, we also do extensive scheduled PM and everything else, right down to regularly filtering the machine oil.”

There’s only a 10-by-40-ft area in the shop where CAPS stocks its spares—mostly the common wear-and-tear-prone items. When you perform an aggressive PM program, Huster says there’s no need to stock much more.

“We’ve had customers come in to do internal audits of our program. My favorite was when one multibillion-dollar company came in to evaluate our program. After their audit they told us the highest score they’d ever given a supplier was a 5—they said ours was 5 for PM.”

He says CAPS has never failed to get less than the highest rankings from its customers in terms of PM and cleanliness. Employees clean and burnish the vinyl tile flooring every day, for instance. And their attention to even the smallest details is evidenced by their use of skid-mark-proof PU rollers. Huster adds that they are committed to kaizen—they’re constantly improving.

Hands-on leadership

“About nine years ago when a maintenance monitoring software system was installed, I told our chief operations officer, ‘I will make this a selling point for this business,’ and I have.”

Yet, Huster isn’t hesitant about giving credit where the credit is due.

“It all comes from our owner, Jim Kick. He didn’t inherit the company. He started the business himself 25 years ago when he was 30 years old and he’s done every job all of us here do. He only had four employees for the first two or three years. He’s a hands-on type of guy—he’s out on the floor every day, and he’s going to do things right.

“And you can’t fool him,” Huster continues. “He knows when you’re doing something wrong, because he’s done what you’re doing himself. That’s the reason for the success of our company. We ship on time. We’re willing to bend over backwards for our customers and we have.”

About 45% of CAPS’s employees have been with the company for more than a decade. Huster himself is a 16-year CAPS vet. And he adds that the company is willing to reinvest in its capital equipment.

It trades in its machines every 10 years and it’s always on the lookout for systems to improve its lean efficiencies and productivity—equipment like its DynaCon conveyors.

Modular mobility

Huster says DynaCons were still new to the market when he first spotted them at what he calls an “itty-bitty” local trade show about 10 years ago. He’d about had it with the QC problems caused by the fixed-length metal conveyors at CAPS, as well as their maintenance problems, replacement costs, and immobility.

“One of the things that we like best about the DynaCons is that you can reconfigure them so easily—they’re wheel-mounted,” Huster says. “And, if they do get damaged, it’s easy to replace any of the units or components, either from inventory or from overnight delivery. They grow with you. We don’t have to commit to certain designs.”

DynaCon systems are composed of 17-inch sections made from lightweight, impact-resistant plastic. Radius-turn and ascending/descending sections are available that can easily be connected to any desired length. Also, they’re available with several accessories and control devices—everything from inline water baths to metal detectors.

Automatic QA

According to Huster, “Their variable-speed motors are a big deal for us, and it’s easy for us to mount a cooling apparatus on a DynaCon. A lot of our parts need to be cooled before being boxed.”

They’re also used at CAPS as parts-orientation feeders—feeding parts from two machines into a single packaging cell.

“They run every day with very little maintenance and, most of all, we don’t have to concern ourselves with them causing any part damage. We can easily change the belt styles, sides, and flights to handle any of the parts we’re running.”

The training required to get everyone at CAPS used to the DynaCons was, according to Huster, almost zero.

“It doesn’t take a lot of training to figure them out. One person can grab any module on the floor and reconfigure the line. They’re also lightweight. You don’t need a forklift or a hoist to move them around. Even the ladies working here can roll them around at the drop of a hat.”

He concludes, saying that when CAPS looks at taking on any new job, it looks at how to automate it.

“Some jobs we leave lay, because they’re too labor intensive. Automation isn’t just a cost issue for us, it’s also an issue of safety, efficiency, PM, and part quality. Automation is important, but in 25 years CAPS has never had a layoff.”

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