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Meeting the challenges of lean manufacturing

Meeting the challenges of lean manufacturing

Lean manufacturing techniques can hold the key to increasing productivity and reducing costs, but implementing the solution itself can often mount up to a considerable overally costs. Modular aluminium profiles can help to reduce those costs, as Gary Livingstone of Minitec UK explains.

Frequently thought of as ‘industrial Meccano’, modular aluminium profiles have become a favoured option to create assembly lines, workstations, machine guards, storage and racking systems, and more. While many of those same applications requirements could be met with standard, off-the-shelf packages, there is an increasing trend towards customers who seek competitive yet “made to measure” fit for specific purpose products.

This approach is increasingly being taken by businesses looking to implement lean manufacturing solutions. If the essence of Lean manufacturing is the elimination of waste then the application and design of modular profile systems to create more efficient operating conditions is crucial to a company becoming leaner.

Many industries today are populated with three kinds of suppliers, designing and producing the infrastructures that are required. Supplier A provides off-the-shelf standard products – what you see is what you get and no deviation from the spec is possible. Then, at the other end of the scale, there is supplier B who will provide a purpose built, fully bespoke solution with no expense spared, neither in terms of componentry and material or design considerations. It’s perfect if this is what you are looking for but you just be prepared to have fairly deep pockets, as very often such solutions will come at a price.

Innovative and imaginative

In between those is the innovative, imaginative supplier who recognises the need for customisation to meet individual needs yet can provide this from a platform of basically standard products and components. And when it comes to implementing technologies to enable lean manufacturing, this is frequently the best option.

We can consider, for example, the need within lean manufacturing for efficient, ergonomically designed work-stations and assembly lines which are robust, safe to use and will last a lifetime. Many modular aluminium profile systems available on the market use specialist fastening systems which, once fastened and locked in place, are not so easy to dismantle and re-use.

From a supplier’s point of view, it also means the customer in locked in. But this protectionist view often doesn’t sit well with users, and Minitec for one applies the opposite view to create a much more positive benefit for the customer. The use of standard off-the-shelf fastening systems which require only a standard Allen key to lock the profile lengths together means that customers benefit from a flexible system that can be re-used time and time again – in different configurations if required – without the need for a complete rebuild from scratch every time.

Modular aluminium profile systems and components are not complex, yet the design requirements of many customers are often limitless. This makes it very important that the load and stress bearing capacities of the modular components are not exceeded and that the end product – whether a work bench, conveyor system or even mobile sports seating unit – is actually capable of bearing the loads that it will be carrying.

On-line CAD design packages allow users to put together their own design, with the software selecting the optimum components to meet the design requirements. Additional programs will also calculate the deflection of aluminium profile systems. Values for applications in both vertical and horizontal designs may be calculated and these values for both load and length are stored until the application has been completed thus making a comparison of different profile systems quick and easy.

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