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Meeting the automotive industry's materials handling needs

02 December 2015

As the automotive sector seeks improvements in manufacturing through highly automated, efficient processes and new product development, OEMs face increasing competition for new model allocations within their assembly plants. Tracy Brooks, automotive & logistics industry manager at NACCO Material Handling Group and Les Knight, Yale sales director at Briggs Equipment, look at the materials handling issues associated with increasing efficiency and achieving cost competitiveness.

Transporting and storing parts

The challenge, when moving goods around a facility with multiple assembly processes, centres on the physical flow of materials. Optimising space, especially around the assembly line is very important. Avoiding congestion, which could lead to workplace incidents and damage to equipment or parts, is critical. One solution is to keep the number of forklifts working in and around the assembly area to a minimum to reduce this risk.  Another consideration is that there can be little space to hold stock of parts at the assembly line stations and, as a result, consolidation or kitting areas, called Supermarkets, are created. Parts are transported to the assembly line in either Just In Time (JIT) or Just In Sequence (JIS) order as required to meet production schedules.

The move towards a ‘Warehouse on Wheels’, i.e. making greater use of tow tractors and trailer solutions around the assembly line, addresses the concern around space as well as delivering an efficient process for delivering parts and collecting empty containers to return to the Supermarket. This process is known as the Milk Run.

The implication for materials handling is that suppliers must fully understand the logistics requirements of a particular assembly line and then tailor a complete solution comprising the optimum mix of forklift trucks, tractors and trailers.

Key risk areas on site

Unfortunately, incidents involving materials handling equipment remain a major cause of injuries to personnel. To reduce this risk, OEMs and Tier suppliers need to consider three key areas – site safety, vehicle safety and driver safety.  It is important to keep assembly line personnel and trucks apart, so materials handling equipment should operate in clearly marked areas and drivers should be alert to pedestrians at all times. Clear site safety rules should be drawn up and enforced, making sure that only authorised personnel operate trucks. Drivers should conduct pre-shift checks as a matter of routine and ensure that all loads are secure prior to transportation.

The importance of accurate data

The automotive industry follows a Lean Manufacturing philosophy that pursues the continual elimination of waste in all business processes.  This philosophy can be carried through to materials handling by ensuring that the equipment is completing the task it is assigned to do.

With the integration of technology in materials handling equipment, such as Yale Vision, customers can manage their assets more effectively. Through impact monitoring and an unattended/idle shutdown function they can reduce the cost of operations for example, while operator access and pre-shift check controls facilitate better fleet management.

Meanwhile, fleet managers can also use tools such as Briggs Equipment’s BE Portal to log a breakdown, submit truck hour meter readings and track a maintenance job in a matter of seconds. Access to reliable data 24/7 helps them to spot trends and pinpoint issues, enabling them to make informed decisions that will minimise truck downtime and reduce costs.

Interdependency in the supply chain

If one supplier experiences a problem, or an OEM decides to revise their production schedule, this has a knock on effect on all other businesses in the supply chain. Some suppliers deliver components to OEMs every four hours to meet demand, so any delay or setback can be critical and the company found wanting may incur penalties.

In terms of materials handling management, it is therefore important that suppliers and OEMs work together and communicate. Space permitting, standby units could be based on site to allow for any fluctuations, while use of the same type of container, pallet or cage will speed up handling operations for both the Tier supplier and the OEM receiver of goods. It is in everyone’s interests to identify the optimum truck type and/or attachment to transport goods, so that the same solution can be adopted by all parties in the supply chain.

Materials handling is a key function within any manufacturing operation, especially in complex automotive businesses. One size does not fit all so it is important to seek expert advice to arrive at a customised solution that will deliver key cost savings while also maintaining productivity and site safety.