In the spirit of innovation and continuous improvement, our shop established a team tasked with looking at ways to make the panel shop more productive. Starting in January, the team looked at all aspects of operations with an eye toward changes that would improve safety or quality, or provide a monetary payback. Over the months since, several of the ideas have been put into place. These improvements are described below.
Automated cutting and stripping of wire: We purchased a machine that can measure, cut, and strip both ends of #18AWG wire, 36” long at the rate of 1500/hour, considerably more than could be done manually. It improves safety through reduced repetitive motions and reduced nicking of finger tips. It also improves the looks of the panels’ interiors when multiple wires exactly the same length lie side by side.
Wire carousel: The shop team recommended a wire carousel like Home Depot has. We buy a lot of custom wire for certain customers (and only those customers). Often, when a shop tech needed the wire, he would look for it on the wire rack, check the wire room in Building 3, or walk the shop to see if anyone else had the needed spool. Sometimes new reels were ordered only to discover the needed wire was simply mis-stored. This carousel puts all of the special wire in one location that can be retrieved quickly, cutting down on a lot of wasted time looking for the needed wire. Much like a vending machine, the carousel has a numberic keypad where the location of the needed reel of wire is entered, and the carousel rotates to the appropriate reel. A spooling and measuring mechanism allows transfer of the needed amount of wire without removing the reel from its carousel location. This improvement provides considerable time savings.
Improved work station: The shop team also recommended making improvements to aid getting wire reels in and out from underneath the table. Before, 2 or 4 spools would be mounted on one rod and it was difficult to remove three spools to replace the fourth. The recommendation was to only have one spool per rod and modify the brackets to hold four short rods instead of one or two long rods. They also moved the spools backward a little to help counterbalance the table when the top was in the near upright position with sub pan and/or equipment on it. This makes spool replacement quicker and safer with less chance of back strain.
Shop layout: To shorten walk times and distances to items the techs access frequently, the team developed an improved shop floor layout that will increase efficiency. The new layout is being implemented as production schedules allow.
Shelf and bin addresses: The shop team suggested that all shelves and bins be given systematic addresses. We currently are labeling all bins and shelves and placing stickers on them to be added to the purchase orders to show the locations until such time as we can create a computerized system. This was also a time saving improvement, making it much easier for techs to find the parts needed for any given job number.
In addition to the immediate returns in areas of safety and labor savings, the shop has a long-term goal to double our current 4,000-panels-per-year capacity by 2019. The team remains in place and continues to look at other aspects of the shop’s operations. Meanwhile, a team of engineers is meeting to look at ways that the engineering group can contribute to the shop’s goals of improving quality and efficiency, including ways to improve the quality of our drawings.