Discovering the right time and the right place

If manufacturing is organized chaos, then the warehouse is where that organization lives – or where the chaos lives. The process of making things works only if you have someplace to receive the raw materials, and then someplace to send the finished goods. The ingress and egress of materials through a plant is critical to the process itself, and it is that process that brought plant manage...

02/01/2007


If manufacturing is organized chaos, then the warehouse is where that organization lives %%MDASSML%% or where the chaos lives.

The process of making things works only if you have someplace to receive the raw materials, and then someplace to send the finished goods. The ingress and egress of materials through a plant is critical to the process itself, and it is that process that brought plant managers to Chicago last month for the annual ProMat show, sponsored by the Material Handing Industry of America.

A lot of the talk at ProMat centered on this idea of making strategic decisions about how materials flow from an incoming truck to the plant floor to an outgoing truck. The idea of Just-In-Time manufacturing makes tracking materials at every step of the manufacturing process critical to productivity.

While much of the discussion looks at warehousing and logistics for finished goods, a good bit of attention is being paid to how those goods get finished. In Lean manufacturing, not only is the assembly process studied to get the maximum benefit for every piece used, but every piece must be in place exactly when it is needed. Lean is about eliminating waste, and that must be a focus for every manufacturer.

When you look at our Top Plant winners this year, you find different products, but common ways of producing them. The success of manufacturers such as Toyota, Square D and BMW is found not just in making things well, but studying new systems and ideas to make things better. Every step in the material handling process is a critical part of that success, and part of what we will honor at our Manufacturing Summit April 2 and April 3 in Chicago.

There is a further convergence of thinking about matching the hardware %%MDASSML%% in this case, the trucks, lifts, conveyors and hoists needed to move materials throughout the plant %%MDASSML%% and the software that tracks how much is being used how fast and where any item is in the manufacturing process.

When you see fork lifts outfitted with RFID readers; when you observe automatic picking systems; and when you watch conveyors with barcode readers whipping packages from one line to the next, you understand that it's not enough simply to have materials moving through the process. It's about having everything in the right place at the right time.

Time is every manufacturer's biggest enemy. Too fast and we risk quality and safety; too slow and we lose productivity and our competitive edge. Finding the right balance is a constant challenge. It's why the plant manager's experience is so valued (look at January's Salary Survey for an object lesson on how that is changing for the better.)

The essence of material handling, as we discuss this month, is finding that right place and that right time. The right time and right place to study this issue in your own facility is here and now.





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