Towline Mows Down Manufacturing Costs
Ferris Industries historically has proven that innovation and teamwork are key elements of their continuing growth and business success.
Ferris Industries (a Briggs & Stratton company) builds the largest lineup of zero radius, twin commercial and residential lawn mowers including its own Ferris branded line. As their mower manufacturing business developed and grew, Ferris management needed larger facilities. They wanted a cost-effective solution. They found a building that could be retrofitted for much needed office space and constructed a new state-of-the-art factory behind it.
With the introduction of new models and the addition of other commercial brands to their factory, Ferris needed extra capacity and greater productivity. This need was satisfied with the purchase and installation of an automated in-floor tow line assembly system from SI Systems.
The assembly line consists of 12 stations along a 340-foot-long line, which now incorporates many of the bench subassembly activities as part of the final assembly process. The towline conveyor system uses a basic index and-dwell design, ideal for assembly of products that require more than 60 seconds of operator activity, and four-way access to the product.
In a traditional system, operators controlled the system’s pace. When all of the operators complete their tasks, they signal that they are done and the line indexes forward.
The installed SI Systems indexing program features indexes that are selectable. The Ferris assembly line allows operators to stop the indexing, or movement of the product to the next workstation, if their task is not complete.
Prior to an index, or line movement, the system gives an audible and visual alarm indicating that the system is ready to start up. If the operator needs additional time, he hits a button to inhibit the indexing or moving of the line.
“When we investigated our alternatives, we decided that the most important evaluation factors would be safety, quality, and productivity. SI scored highest in all three categories,” stated John Orth, Plant Manager for Ferris. “Since installing the SI towline system, we’ve been able to cut our cycle times in half by systematically pacing the production and balancing workstation assignments. Not only has that greatly improved our productivity, but we now have much better control of the assembly process and a less fatigued workforce.”
The Ferris team used this opportunity to adopt lean manufacturing concepts and reduce many off-line material handling moves that added no value to the assembly process. In addition, they were able to balance the twelve stations, and incorporate much of their bench subassembly right into the final assembly process. They also benefited from incoming steel inventory turns.
The SI Systems SideFinger Lo-Tow conveyor fits perfectly into their assembly process. In addition to the conveyor system, the ergonomically designed carriers have fixtures that rotate the mowers to proper assembly angles and eliminate much of the bending and reaching that add to worker fatigue and stress.
The Ferris plant is a model of manufacturing efficiency and a tribute of how lean manufacturing and innovation can breathe new life into former traditional factories. And with the cooperation of local and state officials, Ferris increased their shop workforce five-fold in the past few years. The plant operates three shifts for welding, fabrication, and painting to support the single shift mower assembly.
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