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The Dane Manufacturing Blog is a series of articles selected by our leadership which best represent our perspective on the metal manufacturing and fabrication industry, environment and/or economic climate at time of publishing.

Lean manufacturing thrives amid coronavirus crisis

Tim Heston - thefabricator.com Apr 29, 2020 3:37:57 PM

Amish fabricator in Ohio responds to exploding demand for field hospital cots

By Tim Heston 
April 29, 2020 
 

Lean manufacturing assembly of field hospital cots

A lean cell is configured to produce a field hospital cot about every 30 seconds. PioneerIWS workstations give assemblers quick access to tools and components.

Being in quarantine, Eddie Wengerd had time on his hands. He had returned from the MODEX material handling trade show in Atlanta and was notified that someone at the event had tested positive for COVID-19.

Eddie is general manager of Dalton, Ohio-based Pioneer, an Amish company that specializes in a small niche in the ag market that the plain community knows better than anyone: horse-drawn farm equipment. Powered off the grid by a natural gas generator, the operation has all the technology of a modern fab shop. The organization also has embraced lean manufacturing and has even designed flexible workstations that it now sells under the Gridlok and Flexturs brands through its subsidiary, Pioneer Industrial Workflow Solutions.

When Eddie and his brother Steven, director of sales, returned from the tradeshow and learned they were exposed to COVDI-10, the two quarantined themselves for 14 days, but they spent that time wisely. One day Eddie showed his brother a newspaper article about how the country was running out of hospital beds, and the need for field hospital cots was exploding.

“That’s when his mind started spinning.”

So said Leon Wengerd, Pioneer’s CFO, who explained that at the tradeshow both Eddie and Steven met someone from the Lyon Group in Chicago who had connections throughout the medical supply chain. All the pieces of the puzzle—sales and distribution, local manufacturing collaborators, and lean production—seemed to be in place.

Could it work? The world needs more field hospital cots now amid the coronavirus pandemic. Could Pioneer and its partners provide them?

As Leon recounted, “Within a few days we developed a prototype in SolidWorks. The next day we had a prototype built. A few days later, we were in production. Eddie called me about the idea on March 20, and the first 50 cots were being shipped to Long Island, N.Y., on April 3.” Less than two weeks after that, this company of 50 employees had shipped more than a thousand cots to state governments and medical facilities in Ohio, Maryland, Colorado, and elsewhere.

Leon emphasized that all this couldn’t have happened without two things: lean thinking and good relationships. The latter includes that serendipitous tradeshow encounter with the Lyon Group representative, which led to an expansive sales and distribution channel (though Pioneer is also selling direct). Pioneer also has a relationship with Zoro, a Grainger subsidiary.

Fabric welding systems-maker Miller Weldmaster, Navarre, Ohio, also played a role. “The company builds vinyl welding systems, and they were very instrumental in helping to design the webbing for the bed,” Leon said. “And they have strong connections with Seaman Corp. out of Wooster, Ohio, which is supplying the webbing going forward. And Weaver Leather in Mount Hope, Ohio, punched the vinyl webbing to fit the bed.”

Immediately after the prototype was finished, it was all hands on deck. Pioneer has extensive fabrication equipment in-house, including a new laser cutting system and press brake. But to ramp up fabrication capacity and to ensure it had resources available for final assembly, Pioneer outsourced the cutting and bending work to Metal Dynamics in Wooster, Ohio. When cut and bent components arrive at Pioneer, they head to robotic welding. Several third-generation Wengerds, still teenagers, designed a fixture that facilitated extremely short cycle times.

 
Metal fabricated field hospital cot

Bringing this field hospital cot from conception to production took less than 14 days.

The entire bed was designed around downstream needs, not just for comfort and strength for the end user, but for ease of fabrication, painting (including quick-dry paint), assembly, and deployment. For instance, small teardrop designs in the plate allow cots to stack securely and compactly for transportation and storage.

Lean, high-velocity assembly is at the crux of it all. With its own flexible workstations configured as needed, Pioneer designed an assembly cell—complete with Plexiglas separators to maintain the social distancing protocol—where 14 people assemble a cot from start to finish. “And the Flexturs and Gridlok [flexible workstation] systems worked so well for keeping all the needed tools and hardware the assemblers needed,” Leon said.

Takt time at each station is just 30 seconds. That means every 30 seconds a completed cot emerges from the line. When seconds matter, the exact position of assembly tools and hardware matters too.

Such a quick ramp-up to production shows just how powerful lean manufacturing is in response to a crisis. Lean concepts allowed Pioneer and its partners to ramp up quickly to meet an urgent need. They’ll then scale back just as quickly when the crisis subsides, with no inventory weighing down the balance sheet.

The feat also highlights the importance of relationships. Pioneer couldn’t have accomplished what it did without its partners, including those mentioned here and more than a half-dozen others. All wanted to help in a time of need. Thinking and working together, a community of progressive manufacturers and suppliers can accomplish great things.

How To Make Manufacturing Sustainability A Strategic Priority

Amber Nocella Apr 14, 2020 12:25:51 PM

Sustainability has become a strategic priority in the manufacturing industry.  Customers will no longer accept companies who do not align their strategy with the global health of the planet. With technology today, companies can use data to not only be sustainable in the final product creation, but also in the entire product development and manufacturing process. While the world is moving in the direction of environmentally conscious expectations, adopting sustainable practices is also in the best interest of businesses as well as the world. With the vast amounts of data available to manufacturing companies from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the future of manufacturing holds unlimited potential. By putting this data into action, companies improve the way products are designed and manufactured. 

Understanding innovation starts with your customers

Infor Apr 14, 2020 12:22:37 PM

While innovation is a concept that’s been circulating at the top of distributors’ minds for years, many still struggle with what innovation and adaptation means for them. The drive for transformation is encouraging distributors to reach for new processes and technologies, but true innovation is more complex than purchasing all the bells and whistles. The key to understanding, and ultimately achieving, innovation is to start with the customer. According to Dirk Beveridge, founder of UnleashWD and proud Infor partner, “Innovation is leading customers to a better future for which they are willing and capable of rewarding you.” It’s not about shunning technology; it’s about being strategic in what tools you use to strengthen the customer relationship and improve their experiences. 

Reducing Employee Stress in a Time of Widespread Disruption

Stephen Gold Apr 14, 2020 11:49:08 AM

The social and economic turmoil unleashed on our society by the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has created a level of apprehension not seen in this society since the financial crisis, or perhaps even since World War II. Anxiety is compounded by the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and global messaging apps. Misinformation travels around the globe while the truth is still putting on its shoes. 

The Journey to the Factory of the Future

Tom Muth Apr 13, 2020 2:58:26 PM

While most people are staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are on the front line. Not just in hospitals, but our manufacturers who are essential to society and doing their part helping to stop the global pandemic. These manufacturers are on the factory floor continuing to build, construct, create and prepare. Their need is urgent and the vision for a better tomorrow continues. That vision begins with the factory of the future. 

Advent Design: How Strategic Planning Led to Increased Sales, Jobs and Savings

Advent Design Corporation is an ISO 9001-certified, award-winning company that provides businesses with custom engineering solutions. Located in the Historic Mill of Bristol, PA, Advent provides an array of services aimed at helping U.S. manufacturers become more competitive in a global economy.  It is the breadth of services — all focused on the unique needs of manufacturing — that differentiates Advent Design from other engineering companies, custom equipment builders, product development firms, and contract manufacturers. Each individual service the business offers is designed to complement and enhance each of the other services that Advent Design provides.  The company has approximately 125 employees. 

Preparing for a New Decade of U.S. Manufacturing

Nico Thomas Apr 13, 2020 2:49:35 PM

Each new year brings about a period of reflection, where one can think back on the path that the previous year took us on. The coming year represents an even larger opportunity for reflection as the world enters a new decade. Reflection provides an opportunity to learn and improve and extends beyond just an individual, but also to industries and businesses. As a U.S. manufacturing enthusiast, I’m looking back over the past 10 years and how manufacturing has changed, evolved and innovated so that I can continue to support that evolution. 

Sale vs operations...and the loser is...

Leaders and managers have been dealing with this epic battle since the first person sold a product and someone else had to get that product to the customer. Operations (or finance, logistics, marketing, etc) thinks sales is living the easy life wine and dining clients and making hoards of money. Sales thinks operations could care less and never reads the damn order especially the extra "notes" that says "don't deliver before 10 AM." Both sides are just "waiting" for the other side to screw up so they can run to their leaders inside their silos and claim victory that they are the better army. Many of these armies have seasoned "bus drivers" just waiting to roll over their enemy when any opportunity presents itself. As this battle rages on over the years the casualties pile up. The challenge is many of the leaders of these armies don't even realize the amount of losses that are really occurring during these internal battles.