Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Machine manufacturer prevents injuries with vertical lift module

August 2, 2013
By Special to Manufacturing AUTOMATION

With an endless choice of products in the market today, one way manufacturers and retailers fight to grab your attention is through product packaging. With every new flavor, size or colour variation comes different packaging; aimed at getting your attention and a piece of your wallet.

At the manufacturing level, handling large rolls of product packaging presents quite a challenge; a single roll of packaging can weigh up to several hundred pounds. Schlumpf USA manufacturers roll and shaft handling products, as well as machinery components for unwinding and rewinding packing materials and aerospace composites. Hoist based and portable ergonomic handling systems from Schlumpf lift, load, and turn the packaging rolls; minimizing the ergonomic stress on the operator as well as reducing the risk of damage to the roll.

With business steadily growing, Schlumpf’s 5,280 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Maine was bursting at the seams. Parts were stored on standard pallet rack that was accessed with a stacker truck. Workers would navigate the stacker truck through tight aisles to retrieve the parts needed; often reaching above their head or stretching to reach the back of the rack to get the part. “We were using every inch of floor space for storage,” says Dana Denbow, vice president at Schlumpf, “Parts were hard to access and the process was very time consuming.”

Internal expansion
With no room to grow Schlumpf installed one vertical lift module (VLM) from Kardex Remstar providing the growth they needed without a building expansion. In fact, the first VLM was working so well that they added second unit. Roughly a year later, Schlumpf installed a second VLM.


The inventory in both VLMs was previously stored on pallet rack and drawer cabinets that occupied 20 feet by 30 feet of floor space. Using the VLMs Schlumpf was able to recover 474 square feet of floor space (reduced from 600 square feet to 126 square feet), a 79 per cent floor space savings. With this recovered floor space Schlumpf reorganized the manufacturing flow to maximize efficiencies. “The space we’ve saved with the VLM has bought us another two to three years in this building without a building expansion,” says Denbow.

Ergonomics & safety
With both VLMs now in place, all parts are delivered ergonomically to the worker at waist level. “Our products create an ergonomic and safe work environment for our customers, and it’s important to me that our manufacturing process here at Schlumpf is ergonomic and safe for our employees too,” says Denbow.

The worker lifts the part one time, a horizontal transfer, from the VLM to the transfer cart, reducing the risk of injury to the worker and damage to the part. “The aisles are clear and the clutter is gone; it’s a safer manufacturing environment with the VLM,” says Denbow.

Facility flow
The VLMs store a variety of parts and components used in final assembly. Parts are ordered from various vendors, but a majority of parts and components are manufactured in-house. Once these parts and components are manufactured, they are stored in the Element VLMs along with the standard parts that are purchased from outside vendors.

When an order is received, it’s sent out to the warehouse to be assembled. Starting with a base kit, assembly pulls the parts and components they need from the VLMs to assemble the final product. Upon completion, the product is inspected for quality and sent to the customer.

Picking parts
Parts are still inventoried using an in-house system, just as they were when the pallet rack was in place. Previously, a worker would lookup the part location and then hunt through the pallet rack to find the part. Now, the worker looks up the part location, and the in-house system lists a unit and tray number. The worker goes to the correct VLM unit and enters in the tray number where the part is stored.

The VLM moves to retrieve and deliver the requested tray to the worker in the access opening. Each tray is fitted with dividers and each cell location is clearly labeled, making the part easy to identify. Once the tray is delivered, the worker retrieves the part they require, confirms the transaction and the tray is returned to storage. All part numbers, quantities and storage locations are managed in the in-house inventory management system.

 “This was the perfect solution for us because it allows us to expand gradually by adding one unit at a time,” says Denbow, “We are looking at integrating inventory management software with the VLMs in the coming year.”

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