Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Automated workstations help Kitchener manufacturer meet quick delivery times

November 23, 2012
By Special to Manufacturing AUTOMATION

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the visual displays created with Christie visual display solutions are immeasurable. Combining innovative engineering, advanced manufacturing and eight decades of experience Christie has a reputation of delivering superior, dependable visual display solutions and providing unprecedented levels of customer service and support.

Christie is a global visual technologies company offering diverse solutions for business, entertainment, visual environments and medical industries. With more than 100,000 projection systems installed worldwide, Christie technologies include solutions for cinema, large audience environments, control rooms, business presentations, training facilities, 3D and virtual reality, simulation, education, media and government.

The manufacturing facility in Kitchener, Ont. is the worldwide center for advanced manufacturing of all Christie DLP projectors. With more than 200,000 sq. ft. of production floor space and 600+ employees, the certified ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 14001 facility houses top-of-the-line technology, equipment and employees. The manufacturing process is based on the Kaizen Lean Manufacturing philosophy that focuses on continuous improvement processes and the 5S methodology.

Meeting customer needs                                                                    


Always looking to the future, Christie recently started to expand into new markets and new territories. As the number of orders increased, so did production requirements. With production already at capacity and limited room for expansion, Christie installed two Shuttle VLMs from Kardex Remstar; recovering 70 per cent floor space, doubling capacity and cutting labor requirements in half.

All Christie projection systems are configured to order, but customers were also demanding quick delivery times. While increasing capacity, Christie also sought to give their customers the best of both worlds: custom built projectors with 24-hour order turnaround time.

Room to grow

With orders increasing, Christie needed to double the number of sub-assembled projectors they kept on hand. Previously, Christie maintained an inventory of 100 sub-assembled projectors, each stored on a cart that was two feet by three feet.

“To double inventory with the previous cart system, we would have had to expand the area to make more room for 200 carts on the floor, buy more carts and hire more people,” says Philip Hibberd, senior manufacturing engineer.

Taking a closer look at material flow throughout the manufacturing process, it was evident that expanding the work in process area with carts would not fit the Christie Lean Manufacturing philosophy they had worked so hard to achieve. Christie looked for a solution that provided increased capacity, less floor space and more efficiencies.

Christie implemented two Shuttle XP VLMs, and each currently holds 100 sub-assembled projectors. Both have room for more capacity, allowing inventory to increase based on sales projections. Including the work aisle, each Shuttle VLM occupies only 180 square feet, compared to the 600 square feet occupied by the previous cart system; provides a 70 per cent floor space savings. Adding another VLM allowed Christie to double capacity and only occupy an additional 180 square feet. “The recovered floor space has been used to expand the sub-assembly process from six assembly stations to nine assembly stations,” says Hibberd.

Ergonomics & safety

With each projector weighing in at approximately 52 pounds, worker ergonomics and safety is always a concern. “The projectors are very heavy and lifting them puts the employee at risk of injury and the projector at risk of damage,” says Hibberd. Previously, projectors were stored on carts and the carts were often shuffled around to get to the one in the back. Employees were pushing and pulling carts all day long, leading to fatigue. Hoists were available to move projectors from a station to a cart and vice versa, but not all employees used the hoists.

Each VLM is equipped with automatic tray extraction and hoist is mounted at the access point. The projectors are stored closely together on the trays, making it difficult to access the sub-assembled projectors without using the ergonomic hoist.

Once the tray is delivered to the access opening it is automatically extracted (pushed) out onto an extraction table to easy access. When a projector is ready for picking, the operator uses the hand held controls to position the hoist near the desired projector. The operator hooks the hoist onto the projector and again using the hand held controls lifts the projector into the air, moves it over to the cart and lowers it down onto the cart.

The operator confirms the pick and the tray is returned into the VLM. The hoist is unhooked from the projector and the operator wheels the projector over to the work table just a few feet away. Using the VLM automatic extraction feature combined with the ergonomic hoist eliminates heavy lifting when retrieving the projector.

Improving efficiencies

Previously, four workers were required to pick and finish the sub-assembled projectors. Using a FIFO (first in, first out) picking strategy, it took a worker an average of 15 – 20 minutes to find   a projector. “The sub-assembled projectors all look the same, so the operator would need to check each serial number until they found the correct one,” said Hibberd. With the VLMs, only two workers are required and the required projector is delivered to the worker in under a minute. Christie is retrieving the projectors over 90% faster with half of the labor.

The VLMs have also allowed Christie to vary labour requirements based on demand. When orders increase at the end of the month, they can add another person to the VLM area quickly and easily. Variable labor provides Christie increased productivity when they need it to meet increased demand.

How it all works

Now, after projector models are sub-assembled and tested, they are delivered to the Shuttle VLM work in process area for storage. Projectors are received into the VLM inventory and stored by serial number and sub assembly date so that they can be easily identified for FIFO (first in, first out) picking later in the process.

Customer orders are received and processed through JD Edwards software and sent to the FastPic inventory management software that manages the VLM workstation. The operator in the work in process zone is tasked with identifying the correct sub assembled projector to the order by serial number, finishing the assembly work and delivering it to final electrical testing.

When ready, the operator processes the order with the click of a button and the VLM automatically presents the projector required. Since each projector is stored by serial number and sub-assembly date, the software picks the projectors in FIFO order.

Upon delivery, the tray is automatically extracted (pushed) out onto a table so that the operator can use an ergonomic hoist to lift the projector from the tray onto an assembly cart. Each tray has four to five locations within the tray, each identified with a location number. The FastPic inventory management software screen identifies the exact position in the tray the operator should retrieve the projector from. The operator retrieves the correct projector, and moves it to a cart using the ergonomic hoist. The cart is then wheeled over to the workstation where the operator customizes the projector based on the options the customer requires.

The completed projector is then delivered to electrical testing. Once electrical testing is completed, a UL approved label is applied and the projector is sent to shipping, where it is shipped to meet the 24-hour turnaround time that customers expect.

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