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Room to Grow: Minimize downtime with parts storage that evolves as production does



A new flexible type of storage system can create denser, more space and labor-efficient parts storage capacity.

When production equipment breaks down, every minute it takes to get back up and running can cost thousands of dollars in lost production and idle labor. While technicians strive to reduce downtime, if they spend precious minutes searching for the right replacement parts in inefficient parts storage then, despite their best efforts, many thousands of dollars in production and labor will be lost.

Whether a company manufactures machinery or food products, whether it drills for offshore oil, refines petrochemicals, processes wastewater or produces electricity, to stay competitive production must be extremely efficient and minimize downtime. Yet traditional, inflexible, restricted parts storage space can increase downtime and negatively impact production, operations, and maintenance efficiency.

Too often parts storage and maintenance capacity does not evolve, even as new part sizes, shapes, weights, quantities, and configurations are introduced. The challenge increases when multiple generations of products or equipment must be manufactured or promptly serviced using the same unchanging storage and service space. Changing demand and products, along with line expansion, parts consolidation, facility renovation, and a host of other factors can also require a flexible parts storage capacity that evolves as production does.

Fortunately, a new flexible type of storage system that starts from raw shelving and evolves as needed is allowing parts managers to create denser, more space and labor-efficient parts storage capacity as market, budget, or storage needs change.

While traditional modular drawer cabinets on casters are fine for some applications, their main drawback is that they are essentially unchangeable steel boxes, unable to efficiently accommodate changing part sizes, shapes, weights, quantities or configurations. Once the size of the drawers and box frame is set, modular drawer cabinets have virtually no future adaptability. As storage needs change, for instance, storing washer-sized parts in six-inch drawers wastes a lot of storage space.

Traditional storage shelves offer more space than modular drawer cabinets, but a tremendous amount of storage space can be wasted if, for example, three-inch-high parts are stored on 24-inch-high shelves. Because moving a shelf to create more storage space often requires removing and reassembling 10 or more nuts and bolts, this is practically never done on a large scale.

When parts storage capacity lags behind the need, clutter results with parts too often stored on the floor, on top of cabinets, and stacked in boxes — which can lower productivity if parts are not easy to store and retrieve.

A few years ago, Equipto teamed up with Boeing Canada’s Winnipeg facility to help them with their storage needs. Boeing is the world’s leading aerospace company and the largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft combined. The company wanted a device that would be easy to install and flexible for future re-designs of the storage facility.

The old system was unorganized, uncategorized and inefficient. The time it took employees to locate the exact tool was unacceptable and was costing the facility money in downtime. Equipto offered their V-Grip storage solution to Boeing, which took the device and designed a storage facility itself. The installation took just four days, and the results exceeded what Boeing Canada had in mind when they were shopping for a storage device. In fact, Boeing was so pleased that they signed up several sister storage facilities with the same system. Boeing also found that this system gave them a higher productivity rate, thanks to less down time and a more functional storage area.

The maintenance benefits of flexible storage systems have demonstrated themselves in facilities across North America.

“The goal in maintenance is to strive for zero production downtime, but that depends on getting the right parts into the hands of technicians for needed repairs as soon as possible,” says Jeremy Miller, a DC maintenance foreman with U.S.-based JBS USA LLC, the largest animal protein processing company in the world. “Delay in locating the right parts in storage translates into unnecessary downtime.” The Marshalltown, Iowa, facility carried a production parts inventory of over $1 million, mostly in a central parts area, with parts ranging from tiny nuts, bolts and screws to gears, sprockets, and cabling to motors, chain drives, and sensitive electronic boards.

While the facility had initially used an open rack, cabinet, and bin storage system for parts storage, Miller knew there was room for improvement.

“We felt trapped by our old system of parts storage because it forced us to adapt to it,” Miller says. “The shelves on our open rack were essentially fixed. So too were the cabinets and bins. Because nothing would fit the storage space exactly, we constantly had to search for a spot to put the items. If the parts didn’t fit, we had to store the items in multiple locations, or buy entire new racks when all we may have wanted was a larger drawer to keep related parts together.”

“Parts for certain equipment ended up being scattered in as many as ten different locations,” adds Miller. “This made the parts hard to locate. It could take ten minutes or more to retrieve all the needed parts for some repair jobs. The inefficiency of our storage space crowded our parts area.”

Miller also turned to V-Grip by Equipto, which says its systems start as raw shelving and allow parts managers to adapt and create denser and denser storage capacity as marketplace, budget or storage needs change. A modular storage system is more flexible than modular drawer cabinets or traditional shelves because it is designed so shelves, drawers, and other accessories can be interchanged in the shelf cavity. Since each shelf, drawer or accessory is individually mounted to upright posts using a proprietary bracket system, they are individually adjustable and can be added at any time without disassembly of the unit.

“Since the V-Grip storage system adapts to our needs, we can quickly add, move, remove or change the size of drawers or shelves to fit the size of our parts,” Miller says. “We were able to consolidate our spare production parts in equipment-specific locations in a small central parts room. This left enough room for me to build a small office inside, which further improved inventory control.”

He says it has cut part retrieval time for repair jobs about 70 per cent. Understandably, faster jobs translate into less production downtime, which can add up to tens of thousands of dollars or more in annual savings.

“We’re looking at increasing our flexible parts storage capacity even more by using more of our vertical space,” says Miller. “Once you’ve switched to flexible parts storage that adapts to your needs, you won’t go back to inflexible, fixed storage.”


André Voshart is the editor of PEM. This article also includes files from Equipto. For more information, visit www.equipto.com.