Separating Material Handling from the Warehouse

At first glance, it would seem to make sense to use the Warehouse for storage of both plastics material handling and for finished parts. After all, it all needs to be stored … why not use the Warehouse? But, is there a better way? As part of its continuous improvement, Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, began to evaluate this idea.

In May 2016, Team 1 Plastics completed a 3,500 square feet building expansion to its facility. The added floor space allowed Team 1 to relocate its Maintenance Department, which, in turn, allowed for additional space to expand its production capability, including adding several new molding machines. But, there was still available floor space in the production area. What if material handling was moved into this space? The company began to envision the benefits.

According to Tim Henry, Manufacturing Manager for Team 1 Plastics, with Material Handling in the Warehouse, the Material Handlers had dual roles. “They reported to the Warehouse Manager for tasks and duties to fulfill for the Warehouse team – such as building orders, stocking shelves, and loading and unloading freight – and then they’d support production with the material handling requirements. There were times when this setup became a challenge for them to know which needs to tackle first.”

Another benefit, Henry said, would be that the Warehouse would gain more space for finished goods and incoming materials, “hopefully, eliminating the need to store goods in aisles.” He added, “We’re also continuing to investigate ways to reduce the need of a fork truck in our manufacturing area. With the narrow aisles and heavy traffic, the company sees this as a direct method of improving safety in the manufacturing environment.”

The company made its decision, and in August, moved Material Handling from the Warehouse into the plant, adjacent to the production area. To accommodate the move, Henry said that the company “… added some vertical racking, providing much needed space to store high-use materials, packaging, and the resin dryer servicing station. The additional space has improved overall material handling operations by bringing the Material Handling closer to the area in which it is to be used.”

Henry continued, “We previously transported material handling equipment from our manufacturing area to the Warehouse, cleaned it out, refilled it with a different resin, and then transported it back to the production floor for use. Now we simply transport the material drying equipment across the aisle to the prep area and then back across the aisle to the production floor – a much shorter distance. Operationally, this is the most efficient part of the process.”

And the move has also solved the issue of the Material Handlers knowing which tasks had priority. “Now we have a dedicated Material Handler on each shift who is within earshot of the production floor.” The Material Handler reports directly to the Shift Supervisor. Henry said that the greatest benefit is having one dedicated person that is handling a critical part of the operation as compared to a committee. “Having that dedicated Material Handler allows for a quicker response to immediate material handling needs, such as material loading alarms, keeping the production floor supplied, and assisting with the material handling portion of machine change over.”

As with any change, there have been challenges. “There has been a significant learning curve with a new piece of equipment the company purchased called a Stacker. It is used in place of the High-Lo.” Instead of sitting on the equipment, the Operator walks behind it. “The Stacker is perceived as a bit slower than a traditional fork truck,” Henry said, “but what we’re giving up in speed, we’re making up in proximity.”

Always focused on continuous improvement, Henry said that Team 1 hopes to do more with its Production Monitoring System (ProMon) as it relates to material handling. “We’d like to implement a call button that will send an electronic message to the Material Handler relaying specific needs – for example, material needed at Press #43, or large boxes needed at Press #24, or ready for a tool change at Press #35.”

Henry concluded that the decision to separate Material Handling from the Warehouse was beneficial. “Over all, it has improved operation efficiencies in the area of material handling and production support. Team 1 Plastics is still looking to improve some of its material handling methods, but it is confident that the company is headed in the right direction.”

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