|Lights Out at Makuta Technics: Automation, Attitude Make High- Volume Unmanned Production Possible|
|by Dianna Brodine|
|Strategies Summer 2012|
Running a plastics processing facility “lights out”, or without personnel on the manufacturing floor, requires all the elements – people, technology and product – to be perfectly in sync. Makuta Technics, Shelbyville, IN, has successfully maintained that balance since 1996, molding millions of parts each month with a staff of 10 and only one manned shift.
Stu Kaplan, president of Makuta Technics, answered questions about what is required to effectively implement a lights-out strategy.
Describe “lights out” at Makuta Technics.
The manned shift starts each morning at 7 a.m., Monday through Friday, with a meeting to review production numbers, equipment issues or quality concerns from the prior day. By 3:30 p.m., mold changeovers have been accomplished, alarms have been set and the machines are prepared to run without staff oversight.
What processes/controls allow Makuta to run lights out?
The building’s temperature is controlled to avoid variables in part processing, set to 72 degrees at all times. Dual-line electrical feeds were added to avoid power interruptions, and the small amount of resin required for the micromolded parts reduces large batch ordering, which circumvents potential inconsistencies in resin batches.
Custom-built systems utilize robotics to separate production runs while the facility is running without personnel support, and parts which do not meet quality standards also are captured. “Our high efficiency can be attributed to our custom-designed automation processes,” Kaplan said. “Every machine accommodates automated material handling systems, quick mold change systems, automated sprue/part removal robots and packaging systems designed by Makuta employees.”
How is lights out production set up for success?
Sansyu and Makuta have the same injection molding machines in their shops, which means that samples created by Sansyu have been tested in the same conditions in which production will occur. First samples and quality information are provided to Makuta, and those samples are submitted to the clients. Once modifications are made, the molds are shipped – via Fed Ex or UPS, thanks to the small size of the tooling.
“Developing systems so the machine can run without anyone near is key,” Kaplan said. “From the beginning, it’s important to discuss automation possibilities.” Automation leads to repeatability, and once a part has run for a period of time, Makuta’s engineers often find a way to simplify the process or reduce the number of touches required.
Describe Makuta’s quality control procedures.
Those critical dimensions are checked on a scheduled basis, but no employee has to stand at a machine to monitor production. Makuta strives through automation to protect its’ customers from ever receiving a bad part, and the system is working. Kaplan points to customers with whom the company has zero ppm.
“We eliminate quality issues by understanding the machines’ capabilities and the ways the molds perform,” Kaplan said. Instead of relying on visual inspection to catch variances, Makuta prefers to ensure the mold and machine are processing correctly. “It sounds easier than it is,” laughed Kaplan, “but it starts with bringing in a part that fits what we are already set up to do.”
How does the customer affect the success of the project?
Another potential stumbling point comes when discussing quality control requirements. If the part requires staff to review each part, it obviously is not a fit for Makuta’s lights out production standards. “If we have people who need to stand at a machine, then it interrupts everything we do,” explained Kaplan. “The customer has to come in with an understanding of what they have to do to fit into the model, and I have to do a good job of qualifying the customer and qualifying the part.”
What makes Makuta successful with lights out production?
Makuta’s pay-for-knowledge system plays a part in developing a workforce that, though small, has the ability to perform multiple functions within the facility. However, the employees have to initiate the training, asking to learn a new skill when they feel they are ready to perform the function to Makuta’s necessarily high standards. With so few employees on hand and such tight quality values to meet, Makuta’s employees are truly a pivotal part of the operation, and they are rewarded as such through a profit sharing arrangement.
Kaplan exhibits an almost parental pride in his employees. “The toys are just toys. I don’t mean to demean the automation, but a machine and a robot do not automatically translate into a profitable lights out facility.” Kaplan expanded, “Anybody can buy toys, but having employees and customers who truly understand the business plan and the piece each part plays in that plan is crucial.”