It’s common for manufacturers to practice the lean philosophy of continuous improvement. But typically, that improvement occurs only on the line, through changes in labor practice or manufacturing techniques. Material flow is often the last place managers look for innovation.
That’s a costly oversight. The Lean Enterprise Institute reports that materials and material handling make up between 50 and 80 percent of any manufacturing operation’s total costs. The simplest way to bring those costs down is to take control of material flow, ensuring the precise amount of material needed to keep production moving without added costs.
How do you walk the logistical tightrope between material shortages and excess inventory? Start with a plan — a Plan For Every Part, or PFEP.
What Is A Plan For Every Part?
At its core, PFEP is a spreadsheet or database that contains all the pertinent information about every part or raw material required for a producer’s end products. With all this data compiled in a single place, managers can make more informed procurement decisions based not just on projected usage, but on storage needs, material handling staff levels, material handling equipment, and material delivery routes.
According to Chris Harris, a leading PFEP theorist, PFEP databases should contain at least the following information about every part or raw material:
- Identifying data about the part. Do you use part numbers or codes for materials? Include that in your PFEP spreadsheet. Also add a description of the part — what is it, exactly?
- Storage data. List where the part is stored: Rack numbers, bays, shelving aisles. Include dimensions and weights for each part, too, in case you need to shuffle materials for optimal routing; you’ll need to know if a part will fit comfortably on an alternate shelving unit.
- Usage What’s the maximum number of each part your facility runs through in a day? In an hour? Where on the line is it used? And how much of it do you need for each finished product?
- Supplier information. List the name of your material source, where they’re located, and a rating of their quality, both in terms of product and the timeliness of historical deliveries.
- Shipment details. List the carrier you or your supplier use. Note how many of the parts or units of material you get in a shipment. How long does shipping take?
With all of this information listed in a separate cell within a single database — one listing for each part or material your facility uses — managers get sortable, at-a-glance data that can help them keep the supply chain moving without shortages or excess inventory.
But PFEP isn’t just a database. It’s also a strategy for optimizing material flow for manufacturers. In a sense, it’s a whole manufacturing management system, because it describes how facility input (materials, parts) can most efficiently convert into output (finished products, shipments).
Choosing Material Handling Equipment According to the PFEP
With a PFEP in place, operations can overhaul their material handling systems for optimal efficiency. When you know where each part comes from, where it’s going, and how often that location needs resupply, you can create more effective material-delivery routes. You can also make more informed purchasing decisions about material handling equipment.
Here’s how a good PFEP plan can help you evaluate material handling equipment for effectiveness in your in-plant logistics strategy.
Manual Industrial Carts
If storage locations are in the same building as the production line — and parts aren’t heavy enough to require powered equipment — heavy-duty industrial carts often provide the best combination of ergonomic advantages, cost, and efficiency of movement.
To establish the required specifications for your cart, use your PFEP database to plan a typical re-supply run for the material route you’re working on. How many parts go to this manufacturing cell or line stop in a typical re-supply run? How heavy are they? How much shelving space do they require?
Stock Picking Carts from BHS are available with three steel shelves, up to 48 by 28 inches of storage per shelf, and a total capacity of 1,000 pounds — with an integrated step-ladder to pull parts from high storage locations. Order Picking Carts provide even more space for materials, with four shelves up to 42 by 60 inches and load capacities of up to 3,000 pounds. Custom industrial carts are also available to suit any needs you might discover with help from your PFEP database. Specialized Utility, Service, and Material Carts are also available to match unique specifications.
Tugger Trains, or “Milk Run” Systems
Material handling trains consist of an electric tugger and one or more Warehouse Trailers. They support the in-plant logistics strategy commonly known as a “milk run” transport route, in which parts required for many stops along the assembly line are stacked on Warehouse Trailers, then delivered stop-by-stop by a single operator (sort of like a dairy delivery route of old).
A PFEP is vital to the successful planning of tugger-train replenishment routes. They allow managers to sort material needs by manufacturing cell or line station, creating a step-by-step inventory list that can be serviced by a single looping route. Part data listed on the PFEP (weights, sizes, number of units) also help to choose the Warehouse Trailers that make up your tugger train.
Warehouse Trailers from BHS are available in stock models with capacities of up to 5,000 pounds and in quad-steer or center-steer models. Custom shelving configurations, bin holders, supports, and overall designs are available to fit the exact needs suggested by PFEP data.
Electric Lift Trucks
For large, heavy materials that can’t be handled manually at any stage of the supply chain, electric forklifts are still the best solution to put a PFEP strategy into action. But depending on the materials or parts your manufacturing processes require, you’re likely to need fork attachments to keep the line fed safely and efficiently.
Again, the PFEP database can help with these decisions. Use part descriptions and storage data to determine which materials won’t fit onto pallets; these are likely to require specialized forklift attachments. (You might even go a step further and add a new data point to your Plan For Every Part, listing the material handling equipment that non-standard parts require — that would make future purchasing decisions for forklift attachments much simpler.)
For example, if one of your assembly line stations uses enough wire to require forklift delivery of a whole reel, you’ll require additional equipment like the Overhead Reel Lifter, the Reel Handler Attachment, or the Reel Sherpa Cradle. If you distribute gas tanks to multiple manufacturing cells, you may need specialized, forklift-compatible carts like the Cylinder Transporter or Cylinder Transporter Cage. For large, heavy parts, you may need a Material Handling Cage, which includes both casters and fork pockets for flexible transport.
Regardless of your facility’s unique requirements, when you use the Plan For Every Part Strategy, these purchasing decisions become much clearer. Sortable data makes the PFEP a vital tool for managing any manufacturing operation. To learn more about how material handling equipment from BHS can create a safer, more efficient manufacturing facility, contact our sales team at 1.800 BHS.9500 today.