Re-thinking Product Flow, Parts Picking and Assembly Standards

Daniel Penn - Case Study

Increasing Efficiency by Reducing Time to Prep and Assemble Parts

Client: The US division of a global original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of energy efficient damper actuators and control valves for HVAC systems.

Situation: Four of the company’s production lines needed efficiency modifications to meet production targets, reduce lead times and satisfy customer requirements.

In four separate Kaizen events over 12 months, DPA consultants facilitated each team’s fact-finding, problem solving and new method implementation, all designed to increase productivity. To learn about solutions that could benefit their production lines, specialty and customization line managers from the company’s other facilities in the U.S., Hong Kong and India participated in the improvement initiatives.

Objectives: The four lines sought productivity improvements ranging from 15 to 40 percent.

Tasks: Each Kaizen team began by evaluating part flow, tooling and equipment to determine limitations for each. They compared each production line’s lead time to its product cycle time, and identified value-added and non-value added activities. They mapped their lines’ workflow through spaghetti diagrams and value stream maps to reveal wasted movement and necessary tasks.

Findings:  Assemblers were expected to pick their own parts for orders, resulting in wasteful activities of walking searching and sorting. The lines’ assembly components were spread over several locations, forcing assemblers to travel unneeded distances to retrieve them.

These activities distracted assembly teams from making units in a timely manner. Labeling, damaged parts, incomplete assembly kits, damage to materials and lax parts inspection and separation processes also slowed each of the four lines.

Actions: Each line’s Kaizen team identified specific ways to reduce pick times and minimize queues for their assemblers. They tested the new methods through ‘Kaizen bursts’, or rapid improvement activities, to determine how these changes would work in practice. Parts are now rearranged and moved closer together in flow racks.

Part locations are now clearly labeled and color coded and a logical order picking process has been established. In the work area, material locations and cart locations are now labeled. Part supplies are replenished with greater frequency. Part quantities are now reviewed regularly for minimum and maximum levels, and to prevent excess parts from accumulating in the flow racks. The production flow has been modified for all four lines to reduce assemblers’ travel time. Carts and test station equipment have been repaired. Assembly benches have been reorganized and clutter removed.


The four lines have reduced time to prep and assemble parts and queue them for shipment by 27% to 40%. Assembler walk distances have been reduced by up to 80%. Lead times have been cut in half for each line. The lines’ improved throughput will allow the facility to accept surges in demand without stressing workers or parts supply. What’s more, the teams’ participation in improving visual controls, materials flow and better safety practices have boosted communication and morale.