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Linear systems are produced in `batches of one`

10 August, 2012

Festo has implemented a manufacturing system that allows it to produce parts for linear handling systems economically in batch sizes of just one item. At its global production centre for electric and pneumatic drives at St. Ingbert-Rohrbach in Germany, the company has introduced a “one piece flow” method of assembly, based on Toyota’s production system.

When an order is placed, an NC (numerical control) program for the required parts is generated automatically based on a 3D model of part such as the flange that connects the axis to its motor and is sent to the appropriate machine tool. “This allows us to produce order-specific interfaces,” explains Stefan Schwerdtle, head of flexible production at the Rohrbach plant. “The first part from the machine is the one we use.”

As well as resulting in “a tremendous reduction in stockholding”, the new approach is helping Festo to cut lead times dramatically. Originally it took up to two hours to design a custom flange and to generate a drawing. The part then took five days to produce and a further three to anodise. “Now we can do it in five days,” says Schwerdtle. Anodising is achieved in 24 hours using a chemical process.

Employees transport the workpieces from one assembly station to the next on production lines, with varying numbers of employees working on each line depending on demand. This approach is said to minimise processing times, inventory levels and floorspace, while maintaining quality.

Sales of Festo’s electric drive and handling systems have been growing by more than 20% a year and electric systems now account for about 5% of the company’s total sales. More than 95% of its handling systems are made to order, with almost none being made for stock.

Festo is now extending its one-piece flow philosophy to the production of gantry systems with the aim of implementing the new approach by the spring of 2013. It is also aiming to cut the time it takes to produce finished profiles from around 10 minutes at present, down to about two minutes by 2014.

To cater for the increased demand for its products – especially electric drives – Festo is planning to expand the manufacturing area at the Rohrbach plant by 6,000m2 (about 30%) by 2015. This includes a three-fold increase in production space for its gantry and tripod robot systems (above).

Globally, Festo is investing more than €100m in plants in Germany, China, Hungary, Bulgaria and Switzerland, with the aim of expanding its production floorspace by at least 50% by 2014.

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