Modular drawers make it easier to locate parts

In this installment of What Works, an automobile manufacturer uses Kaisen to improve performance.

Kaisen, the Japanese word for "continuous improvement", is more than just a snappy catchphrase or motivational mantra. It's a tangible process that has helped Toyota become one of the world's most successful automobile manufacturers.

Kaizen is evident at Toyota's auto manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Ky., a $5-billion automotive complex that is now the company's largest production plant outside of Japan. This 7.5 million sq.-ft. facility employs nearly 8,000 and produces 500,000 engines and vehicles annually. Plant operations include stamping, die shop, body weld, paint, plastics, vehicle assembly, engine/axle machining and assembly.

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The plant's productivity has been recognized by The Harbour Report and by J.D. Power and Associates.

The Shelf Converter Drawer System, manufactured by Lista International Corp., is a free-standing system of modular drawers set in a pre-assembled frame. It features drawer partitioning accessories, which are used to create custom compartments for each item. Toyota estimates that the system makes it 15 to 50 percent easier to locate parts.

Awards aside, the company continues to develop and implement initiatives to improve performance. Kaisen has fueled development of the general stores, which is the small-parts hub for the plant's production divisions. When a department receives specifications for a process, it orders the parts from the general stores, which transports them to the department for easy accessibility.

This hub-and-spoke operational system is critical for departments such as the body weld shop, which incorporates 1,200 production processes and uses 8,000 pieces of equipment. Parts range from industrial electronics to shunts, shanks, circuit boards and robotics components. Needless to say, a highly organized parts storage system is critical to the plant's productivity and success.

"The previous storage system, which consisted of a network of open shelving, had a number of drawbacks," says John Raymer, body weld maintenance manager. "It was disorganized, inflexible and not aesthetically pleasing." For example, sensitive electronic parts were stored in open shelving, where they were exposed to the internal environment, including dust and particulate matter. Furthermore, the open drawers and shelves were fixed, which hampered flexibility.

To improve control over his parts supply, Raymer wanted a portable, mobile system with built-in flexibility, something that would accommodate constantly changing needs. As a result, he consulted with Lista International Corp., a Holliston, Mass.-based designer and manufacturer of modular storage systems.

After analyzing plant's storage needs, Lista recommended its Shelf Converter Drawer System, a freestanding system of modular drawers set in a pre-assembled frame. The system features drawer partitioning accessories, which are used to create custom compartments for each item. Available in seven full sidewall heights for maximum cubic storage capacity, it's designed to allow for easy and safe access with a minimum of stress and strain.

Its design allows it to be inserted easily into pre-existing shelves,a substantial benefit to the Georgetown facility. "We're always looking for ways to incorporate the old and the new," says Raymer, "With the Shelf Converter Drawer System, we avoided the expense of replacing our current shelving."

Raymer, estimates that it's now 15 to 50 percent easier to find a part. That has resulted, in turn, into better use of resources,and continuous improvement. Raymer is confident that the Shelf Converter Drawer System will continue to accommodate the needs of his department, no matter how his inventory, production schedules or process requirements change.