Microlab, a Wireless Telecom Group Company, is located in Parsippany, NJ and designs and manufactures high-performance components such as dividers, directional couplers and filters for RF and microwave distribution systems.
Like most companies, Microlab used batch assembly to produce their products, but wanted to transition to one-piece flow to save money, time, and to provide a larger variety of better products for the customer.
Initial Project Needs Assessment
- The old production line process did not support single-piece production. Production could only be completed in batch quantities, which adversely affected lead times and led to increased inventory costs since batch quantities often exceeded demand.
- The old production line configuration was composed of independent assembly stations separated by space which prevented a seamless workflow. The poor logistics increased production costs due to wasted motion and time.
- Workstations were not designed with lean principles in mind, leading to an inefficient assembly process and a longer production cycle time.
- Workstation designs did not incorporate ergonomic design, potentially exposing production workers to risk factors associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
- A modular lean work cell design was required to accommodate a “batch-of-one” production philosophy using a flexible workflow to allow for future production line reconfigurations and expansions.
- The installation and commissioning of the new semi-autonomous, lean work cell would need to be completed with minimal disruption to production. Lost production time would lead to longer product lead times and lost revenue.
Jeff Roberts, Microlab’s VP of global operations, described the initial vision for a new lean manufacturing work cell as “a very simple conveyor system to transfer products around a basic lean line.” The justification for the flexible manufacturing work cell was to end batch production practices in favor of single-piece production. The new production cell would provide Microlab with the flexibility to offer a larger variety of products and customize products to meet the needs of the customer.
Jeff identified project ownership and total systems integration as critical concerns during the initial vendor-assessment phase of the project. Each of the suppliers Microlab initially considered had specialized capabilities but all lacked the ability to “own” the entire project, providing design, component/systems integration, delivery, and installation of the turnkey system. It was also expected of the selected supplier to possess robotics and automation expertise since a collaborative robot and Cartesian robot system would be incorporated into the new work cell. To avoid product supply disruptions and delays, a supplier with the capacity to build, test, and debug the entire line at the supplier’s facility would be favored in the selection process.
The Solution: A fully integrated, semi-autonomous, flexible work cell designed, built and installed by Airline
Tony Smith, Microlab’s manufacturing manager, reached out to Darren Rist, Airline’s local application engineer, to inquire about component needs for the new production line. As Darren listened to Tony describe the shortcomings of the current production process and their vision for a new lean work cell, it became apparent that Airline had the expertise, resources, and capabilities to deliver the turnkey solution Microlab required from a single supplier.
The fully integrated, semi-autonomous, flexible work cell designed, built and installed by Airline consisted of:
- (1) Bosch Rexroth TS 2Plus series pallet conveyor/transfer system
- (7) Bosch Rexroth customized, modular, ergonomic workstations
- (7) Bosch Rexroth ergonomic chairs
- (1) Bosch Rexroth customized “supermarket” material cart with flow racks
- (1) Ingersoll Rand pneumatic piping system
- (1) SMC Pneumatics air preparation and pneumatic control system
- (1) Airline HMI accessible work cell control system
- (1) Phoenix Control mGuard secure, permissions-based industrial network router
After several initial concept and design collaboration meetings with Airline’s engineers, a final design was approved by Microlab for construction by Airline’s fabrication team. The final design accommodated the customer’s desire for a seamless single-piece workflow which significantly reduced production losses due to wasted time and motion. The new design vastly improved material logistics through the use of a centrally located “supermarket” which dispenses parts to the work cell, and routes finished goods to the shipping department.
Every station of the work cell can be controlled using the HMI on the master control panel. A workstation that is not needed for a particular production run can be easily bypassed allowing for flexible line configuration and a much quicker and easier production set up process.
The Phoenix Contact mGuard
enables authorized Airline engineers and technicians to gain immediate remote access to the work cell control system to monitor, test, and modify the control system. This remote access helps Microlab avoid costly field-service calls and production losses due to extended downtime.
Ergonomic design was incorporated into each of the seven workstations to ensure worker well-being. The 5S lean methodology
was implemented in the workstation designs to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. The workstations designs also include LED lighting, footrests, adjustable monitor arms, keyboard trays, and ergonomic chairs.
The work cell design implemented the SimplAir compressed air piping system
manufactured by Ingersoll Rand. This innovative system ensures the leak-free and maintenance-free distribution of compressed air to key positions within the work cell.
The entire lean work cell, occupying approximately 2,000 sq. ft., was assembled and tested at Airline’s Bensalem, PA facility, enabling the customer to continue uninterrupted product production in their facility during the construction and testing phases of the project.
In the Customer’s Own Words:
“Airline was extremely focused on providing us with the right solution. It was reassuring to learn that they could assist with the automation and robotics aspects of the project. The Airline engineering team was open to collaboration and their attention to detail was something we haven’t experienced working with other suppliers. In the end, Airline delivered a fully functional and automated lean work cell that far exceeded our initial vision of a simple conveyor system transferring our products around a lean line.”
Jeff Roberts, Microlab’s VP of Global Operations
“The positional accuracy of the transfer conveyor enables us to automate production processes that were previously completed manually. The HMI gives me complete control over the entire production process and every workstation. Airline was able to integrate all our individual production processes into a single, seamless one-piece workflow, which eliminated inefficiencies and waste, and reduced our production costs.”
Tony Smith, Microlab’s Manufacturing Manager
- A 90% reduction in cycle time. The product assembly time was reduced from 20 minutes to 2 minutes following the installation of the new work cell.
- A 13-month return on investment (ROI) that was initially estimated to be 24 months
- The elimination of batch production led to a significant reduction in product defects and rework, and minimized costs to carry surplus product inventory.
- A highly modular and flexible work cell that can be easily re-configured and expanded upon to support future growth. (The need for an additional workstation has already been identified and in the initial design phase.)