Ferris Industries installs automated towline conveyor assembly system
Since its installation, Ferris has improved operator ergonomics, while also reducing cycle times by 50%.
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In response to steady growth, Ferris Industries’ mower manufacturing business decided to not only introduce new models, but also add other commercial brands to its factory. However, to achieve these goals, Ferris would need to have extra capacity, along with greater productivity.
To satisfy this need, Ferris purchased and installed an automated towline conveyor assembly system that would enable it to reduce cycle times by 50%, while also improving operator ergonomics and productivity.
Ferris’s assembly line consists of 12 stations along a 340-foot-long line, which incorporates many bench subassembly activities as part of the final assembly process. In addition, its towline conveyor system uses a basic index and dwell design that is ideal for the assembly of products that require more than 60 seconds of operator activity, as well as four-way access to the product.
In a traditional system, operators control the system’s pace. When all of the operators complete their tasks, they signal that they are done and the line indexes forward.
However, Ferris’s installed indexing program features indexes that are selectable. And, the company’s assembly line allows operators to stop the movement of the product to the next workstation if their task is not complete.
Prior to a line movement, the system gives an audible and visual alarm that indicates the system is ready to start up. If the operator needs additional time, they hit a button to inhibit the moving of the line.
“When we investigated our alternatives, we decided that the most important evaluation factors would be safety, quality and productivity. [The automated towline conveyor assembly system’s provider] scored highest in all three categories,” says John Orth, plant manager at Ferris. “Since installing the towline system, we’ve been able to cut our cycle times in half by systematically pacing the production and balancing workstation assignments. Not only has that greatly improved our productivity, but we now have much better control of the assembly process and a less fatigued workforce.”
The Ferris team used this opportunity to adopt lean manufacturing concepts and reduce many off-line materials handling moves that added no value to the assembly process. Additionally, they were able to balance the 12 stations and incorporate much of their bench subassembly right into the final assembly process. They also benefited from incoming steel inventory turns.
With the cooperation of local and state officials, Ferris has increased its shop workforce five-fold in the past few years. The plant now operates three shifts for welding, fabrication and painting to support the single shift mower assembly.
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