Casebook 2011: Eyeglass manufacturer HVHC sees clear improvements
Designers of a brand new eyeglass production plant thought they had created a state-of-the-art materials handling system. Then they realized that people were still wandering from workstations to push manual carts between multiple locations. With the installation of magnetic-tape automatic guided vehicles (AGVs; Creform, 800-839-8823, http://www.creform.com), the plant has improved efficiency while cutting product loss.
HVHC is the parent company of Eye Care Centers of America, the third-largest retail optical chain in the United States with more than 500 retail stores in 36 states. Shortly after opening a modern production plant in Schertz, Texas, designers noticed the conveyor belts were only cost-effective for certain volumes of products. For everything else, workers relied on the not-so-modern pushcart.
“We couldn’t figure out an economically justifiable conveyor system that would work for those applications,” says Ric Lee, HVHC’s manager of quality operations at Schertz.
The company that designed the conveyors suggested an AGV, but the Schertz plant needed even more customization options. They agreed on a rapidly deployed system with vehicles that can be created and customized by each plastic-coated steel pipe and joints. Additional hardware accessories can be easily configured to build the desired structure and can be ready in minutes to follow easily applied adhesive magnetic tape.
“We entered the building in March 2009 and were completely moved in by April 24,” says Lee. “The AGV system was up and ready in less than an hour after they got it here.”
Lee says the plant immediately enjoyed the benefits of reduced product loss, after averaging one eyeglass tray collision per shift.
“You drop 10 or 20 trays and that costs quite a bit of money,” Lee says. “Also, the new system keeps people in their workstations. After considering conveyors, there’s no comparison in terms of cost.”
Lee reports the ROI on the AGVs was less than six months. The plant has since looked for custom-built alternatives to push and trailer carts, flow racks, roller conveyors, hinged shelf carts, tilting racks, workstations, and rolling tool cribs.