Parker Sporlan accelerated its lean journey by switching from wood tables to adjustable workstations based on the IPS system of Tslot aluminum framing

Parker Sporlan accelerated its lean journey by switching from wood tables to adjustable workstations based on the IPS system of T-slot aluminum framing.

The Lean Way of Parker Hannifin's Safety Culture

Parker's Sporlan division uses lean organizational tools to improve visibility, standardization and, ultimately, safety.

When a company's lean and quality journeys diverge, safety can be compromised. As a supplier to a wide variety of manufacturing organizations – and being one itself – Parker Hannifin developed sensitivity to the success and failure of lean philosophies many years ago.

Early adoption of the lean structure had many organizations focusing on the 5S components:  sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain. This philosophy is attractive and easy to adopt, but it can be hard to put into practice because, as with any great idea, timing is everything. Lean teams have found that if they don't achieve early implementation successes, their organizations can soon shift attention to competing priorities.

"From my experience across Europe and the U.S., I've witnessed significant gains being postponed due to the time and the energy required to build the lean solutions teams designed for breakthrough improvements in safety, quality, on-time delivery or productivity," said Jean-Marc Athanassiadis, lean manager for Parker's Electromechanical Division. "I long wished we had pre-made or modular solutions available to reduce our time from improvements design to implementation."

Safety improvements alone are a big enough challenge, especially in larger organizations, because different departments face different safety issues. That's why Athanassiadis believes such organizations should make safety the sixth S in their lean programs. Without it, none of the other five Ss matter.

Improved organization of the final assembly cells resulted in better ergonomics. Workspaces are more efficient and back strains and eye injuries have been reduced dramatically.

Parker itself is a large, diverse company with many divisions. The need for safety's fusion into lean programs started early in Parker's own lean journey. An example of that fusion can be seen in the collaboration between Parker's Sporlan Division located in Washington, Mo., and the Electromechanical Division's Industrial Profile Systems (IPS) product line, manufactured in two plants, located in Wadsworth, Ohio, and Rohnert Park, Calif.

Sporlan, a provider of HVAC systems that Parker purchased in 2004, offers a broad selection of products in that category. Parker's IPS product line offers T-slot aluminum framing to help companies find quick ways to accomplish their lean goals in manufacturing, storage, assembly and shipping.

The IPS T-slot aluminum framing is used for assembling machine bases and frames to hold automation system components as well as for safety guarding, enclosures, worktables, material handling systems and signage.

When Sporlan started reshaping its work environments, it did so with adjustable workstations, team scheduling boards, job tracking boards and cell communication boards – all based on the IPS system of T-slot aluminum framing. This also provided a ready platform to integrate mechanical or electrical interlocks, access control, light curtains, etc., without drilling or welding.

"An important part of the lean principle is to standardize things," said Cary Cox, Plant III lean leader for Parker Hannifin, Sporlan. "We wanted all tables, parts presentation and signage, to be of standard components, so we could assemble it in any fashion and size, and do it quickly. We can also disassemble them and reuse the components for a new design. This helps us with our productivity, our costs, our deliveries and the flow of material through our plant."

Discovering the Need for Lean

Cox's plant is one of three in Missouri. All the plants, which employ a total of 1,200 people, run on two shifts a day. Before establishing its IPS platform, all Sporlan work activities were done on long wooden tables serving as work cells, to which large quantities of components were delivered.

Much of this work involved assembling and testing valves, which are made up of hundreds of small components. These components and materials usually were delivered to the cells by tugger or manually by a dock worker, but sometimes the person working the cell would have to retrieve his or her own parts from the dock area. There often were days or even months of supplies scattered throughout the building. Finished goods usually were moved by order rather than by a timed route. That meant inventory often stayed in the shop longer.

Sporlan's new aluminum work stations are U-shaped and light enough to easily be moved when reconfiguration is necessary. That process is done with minimal drilling – primarily fastening.

That's just one example of this division's safety improvement.

"Our new environment looks better than a bunch of old wood that gives splinters and gets dirty," Cox said. "Those things alone can cause significant quality and safety issues in your plant."

So can lack of visibility. He says that by using 4-foot-by- 8-foot sheets of clear Lexan, not only for tabletops, but also for partitions, they've increased visibility.

"We try to keep everything we build under a certain height so we have a visual workplace that lends itself to locating operators and getting help when necessary," he adds.

Material Handling and Maintenance Benefits

As a result of these changes, plant flows improved along with parts presentation and delivery.  Line items shipped improved, days of inventory were reduced and productivity improved.  

These improvements contribute to plant safety, especially on the maintenance side. Sporlan's maintenance team was responsible for building the old wood workstations and moving them to wherever they were needed. Now the plant's lathe team can move and reconfigure the aluminum workstations, which also are used by the maintenance team to adhere to their lean operations. This has freed up the maintenance team to focus more on preventive maintenance and to more quickly respond to other matters.

As for the rest of Sporlan's plant employees, their workspaces are more efficient and ergonomically set up.  

Lean Lessons Span the Global Enterprise

The lessons from Parker Sporlan are the strong connection between safety and better organization, flows and movement. Other Parker Divisions are visiting Sporlan to learn more from their journey.

"We've shared drawings and plans, and they may even see something that we've put together out of the IPS and implement it themselves," said Cox. "That includes our team improvement boards and the different metric boards we have around the plant. We've even built assembly cells out of the IPS system and shipped them to Parker plants in China."

If you are considering lean transformations consider these topics, too:

  • Line of sight
  • OSHA regulations for pinch points
  • Ergonomic workflow and daily user stresses
  • Daily flow routes

As industrial workplaces adjust to a wider variety of employees and machinery interaction, these abilities to adjust quickly and continually to individual needs will be the hallmark of safe and lean leaders.

Mario Mitchell is product manager for IPS T-Slot Aluminum Framing at Parker Hannifin's Electromechanical Division. See more on the lean solutions here:  http://bit.ly/EHS_Lean

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