ACTYLUS – helping eliminate waste and improve productivity in lean and 5S environments

Today’s lean-focused OEMs are always on the lookout for ways to eliminate waste and optimise productivity. Many use the 5S method of workplace organisation with its mantra, ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place.’

For Munters, a global manufacturer of air treatment and climate control solutions, this focus on Lean and 5S is a daily practice. Its main US plant manufactures massive air treatment units for some of the world’s largest and most demanding customers. Meeting their deadlines can have significant financial implications, so it is crucial that supplies for each project are always in the right place, at the right time.

One of Munters’ core values is: ‘There is always a better way.’ To Kevin Spearman, Materials Analyst Supervisor, Global Operations, that means: “We metric everything. With global competition for every job, there’s no room for complacency.”

One process Spearman wanted to improve through the 5S method was how the company managed its OEM electrical inventory. Production workers were required to scan low bins on a daily basis, which meant they had to walk to a cabinet, pick up a scanner, walk back to their station, scan the bin’s bar code, then make another round trip to return the scanner. At that point, a supervisor would have to enter those orders into the ERP system. This cost the company roughly 3.5 hours of lost labor each day – equating to 728 hours a year.

Immediate results
This process often led to over-ordering, since production workers were more focused on preventing costly stock-outs, not inventory carrying costs. This resulted in a significant amount of safety/reserve stock, excessive inventory costs and the need for extra storage space.

Having reviewed other automated bin systems, none of which quite fitted Munters’ needs, Spearman turned to Munters’ industrial supplies partner, WESCO Distribution®, to find a better way. They had recently learned about the ACTYLUS™ Smart Bin System from Apex.

These cloud-based devices constantly monitor bin levels and send replenishment orders directly to WESCO’s ERP system.

WESCO initially implemented 10 ACTYLUS units to automate supply replenishment orders for Munters’ production lines and panel assembly area.

Results were seen immediately. The first obvious win was a reduction in wasted steps. Since the units are located near the point of use, employees can now pick up supplies in seconds. Meanwhile, ACTYLUS eliminates barcode scanning and all those wasted steps, providing even more productivity gains.

In total, Munters employees will save more than 101,000 steps a year – that’s 700 employee hours that can be channelled back into production. And since supervisors no longer manually enter orders into the ERP, they can now turn their focus to more productive tasks.

Munters has also made valuable gains in its 5S programme to eliminate waste. Because the ACTYLUS automated replenishment system ensures accurate orders, management knows every item will be where employees need it, when they need it. As a result, they have been able to cut back on reserve supplies, lower inventory costs, and consolidate bins to free floor space.

Fast ROI
In all, Munters gained 108ft2 (10m2) of productive floor space by reducing reserve stock. This was quickly put to use by adding an extra manning table in the panel assembly area – providing flexibility to add staff when Munters needs to respond to spikes in customer orders.

With real-time visibility into supply levels, WESCO can now help Munters achieve the lean cost savings and efficiency it needs to compete in the global marketplace. WESCO has also been able to reduce delivery runs from five days a week to four – a 20 per cent saving in the account’s operational costs.

This process also helped WESCO reinforce its already-strong relationship with Munters and keep competitors at bay.

Spearman adds, “ACTYLUS wasn’t just a great fit for our 5S programme, we also saw ROI in two and a half months. That means automated replenishment of floor stock will be the cornerstone of our future.”

In fact, Munters is looking at implementing ACTYLUS in other manufacturing facilities, a sure sign that the Munters/WESCO partnership will continue to grow.