Providing the right parts at the right place in the plant
Robin Hanson recently defended his PhD thesis entitled "In-plant materials supply: Supporting the choice between kitting and continuous supply" at the Department of Technology Management and Economics. He states that in order for an assembly plant to run efficiently, the in-plant materials supply must support this. In this context, the principles used in the materials supply are of central importance. The thesis focuses on the two commonly applied principles of kitting and continuous supply and on when each of the two principles should be used.
Kitting and continuous supply, can you tell us more about what this means?
- When continuous supply is used, the components are sorted based on part number when they are delivered to the assembly stations – meaning that an amount of each part number are delivered together, often in a common container. Since not all products are the same, the assembler at each assembly station must identify the right components for each product. Kitting instead entails that components to be included in the same product are grouped together into “kits” before they are delivered to the assembly stations.
Which are the benefits and drawbacks?
- There are several benefits and drawbacks associated with both kitting and continuous supply. How big these benefits and drawbacks are depends on the application, which makes the overall picture somewhat complex. Among the benefits of kitting is a high flexibility to handle large number of product variants and variations in volume, but also better possibilities of supporting the assembly work at the receiving assembly stations.
A general benefit of continuous supply is that the material flows through the assembly plant become more straightforward than when kitting is used, since the kits need to be prepared before they are delivered to the assembly stations. Continuous supply is therefore usually associated with less resource consumption in the materials supply than kitting.
Which is the most important result of your research
- The research shows the importance of configuring an in-plant materials supply system based on the specific conditions of each case. It can definitely be useful to get inspiration from other plants and from other industries, but in order to create a well-functioning system, the local conditions must be considered. It is of great importance to consider the interface between materials supply and assembly, since the choice of how to supply the assembly line with components will affect the assembly. Moreover, it is important to really view the materials supply system as a system. For example, when choosing which materials feeding principles to use within the assembly plant, the configuration of packaging and handling equipment must be considered – and preferably be configured in conjunction with the choice of materials feeding principle.
In your thesis, you propose a process for how to make the choice – tell us more about that!
- The first step is an analysis of the situation and the conditions that need to be considered, in terms of the existing in-plant materials supply system and its context. Based on this analysis, the next step is to decide what performance area should be prioritized.
Once the priorities have been made, it is time to consider the more specific configuration of the whole system. When a conceptual configuration has been proposed, it is evaluated and, if needed, adjusted. By making “loops” of evaluations and adjustments, a suitable configuration can be found.
Who are the people making the choice of which principle should be used?
- In the case of a comprehensive decision, concerning a whole assembly plant, or large parts of an assembly plant, the management of production and material handling should take responsibility for the decision. Because of the complexity, detailed knowledge is needed of both materials supply and assembly, which means that several people, such as industrial engineers and middle managers, should be involved in making the decision. In case of smaller decisions, concerning single part numbers, the decision can be made by a single industrial engineer.
What happens next for you?
- Since January 2012 I am working as a management consultant for Capacent, where I work mainly with projects related to production and logistics, meaning that I have great use of the knowledge I have attained through my research. Moreover, I have a part-time position as a researcher at the Division of Logistics and Transportation at Chalmers, where I continue my research on in-plant materials supply within the automotive industry.
May 14, 2012
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