Automated processes are shaping the industry to an increasing extent. Robots and gripping systems control many processes. But there are also important exceptions to this development – for example in the electronics and drive controller production. In this case, circuit boards are still often assembled by hand with wired components and mounted onto innovative automation systems. Why is this not changing? "For technical reasons," explains Martin Majohr, Head of Operations at the Körber company LTI Motion in Lahnau, Hesse. "In some cases, especially when there is a range of different component sizes or assemblies, the motor function of the human hand is unsurpassed in terms of efficiency and precision." Against this background, the focus is on the workstations of the production staff: how should they be designed so that, on the one hand, the production process is fast and faultless and, on the other hand, each employee has an ergonomic workplace?
To gain precise answers to these questions, production planners in Lahnau took an unusual step: the employees designed their workstations themselves. All those involved were given the chance to optimally introduce their ideas and know-how. The result of this purposeful knowledge sharing could be observed since September 2015 in the LTI Motion device production. The project took around one year. The planning phase started after a three-month analysis. "As a first step, we built a text-book production line out of cardboard and wood and simulated the production process using this model," says Alexandra Städele, Group Organizer for ServoOne CM. "This enabled us to check whether our workstations were ergonomically designed and whether everything was arranged within easy reach. In the case of problems, the cardboard/wood construction was simply changed." The experts call this process "cardboard engineering" and it has meanwhile become a standard in the development of lean processes. However, the electronics experts went one step further, explains Städele: "We also supported the construction of the finished workstations. This was an important step because it enabled us to make further detailed improvements. The assembly and subsequent mounting are demanding tasks which have a significant impact on our product quality. The result therefore had to be perfect all round." The key targets of the re-design are always highly satisfied customers.
The re-design of the workstations, however, is only one element in the comprehensive change process. Finally, the automation experts have changed their complete hall layout to achieve extremely lean production processes. The paths taken by the employees were just as important in this process as the flow of material, energy management and information flows. Taking the ServoOne CM (an automation system for machines) as an example the approach becomes clear: its production takes place in four stages – from the assembly of the circuit board, to the assembly test, to the device mounting and the final test. "In the past, employees had to walk a long way, for example to take the assembled and tested circuit boards to the device assembly. These distances are now completely avoided. All subprocesses are part of a continuous assembly line," reports Majohr.
In addition, at LTI Motion, steps are being taken to implement a "one-piece flow". This means that each individual assembly goes through all production steps in succession – currently, the employees still produce around eight complete assemblies which are passed on in groups. The planners want to gradually reduce the number of these "pre-produced" items. If this is successful, the individual assembly will be passed on immediately after completion. This enables many material flows to be optimized – for example, because logistics makes the required material available "just in time" and in precise quantities on the production line. Not least, this causes the through-put time for one automation system to be significantly reduced. "We develop and produce innovations which are up against heavy competition", Majohr concludes. "This is why these changes are so essential for our future and a basic requirement for profitable growth. We want to become better through these changes in a multitude of ways, to further improve our quality and sustainably reduce our costs – so that our customers continuously experience our mission statement of 'Performance. Sustained.' when they work with us."