Assembly Blog

Honey-Dos and the Assembly Line

Has a hobby or home improvement project ever informed your work on the assembly line?

May 6, 2013

I first got the woodworking bug three years ago. My wife, an avid gardener, wanted a workbench for potting plants. But, we ran into sticker shock when we shopped around for a ready-made bench.

“Could you make me one?” my wife asked.

Could I? We would have to see. So, I bought some cedar and a few tools and went to work. Several weekends later, my wife got her potting bench, and I had the itch to do more.

My most recent project was to build an oak corner cabinet for my wife’s collection of Irish pottery, and the project has given me a greater appreciation for work on the assembly line.

For one thing, the project taught me the importance of good fixturing. Fixtures don’t actually do anything, like drive a screw or weld a joint, yet they’re the first part of an automated assembly system that gets made. They represent a small part of the overall system cost, but if they fail, even the best-designed machine will produce junk.

I learned that the hard way during my cabinet project. The cabinet’s hexagonal shelves needed a groove along three sides so plates could be leaned against the rear wall. I wanted to make the grooves with a router in a plunge base. Unfortunately, my first attempt at a shop-made fixture to hold the shelf and guide the router was less than optimal. To my horror, the first groove I cut looked more like a wandering river than a straight line.

Back to the drawing board! My second fixture was much better. It locked the shelf securely in place while smoothly and precisely guiding the router.

The cabinet project also gave me a new appreciation of the lean concept of 5S. When implementing lean, 5S is usually the first methodology put in place. It plays a vital role in reducing waste, downtime and in-process inventory.

The first S—sort—requires assemblers to remove all items not needed for current production operations. Only the bare essentials should be left. What great advice! I typically spent the first 10 to 15 minutes of each project day just organizing my workspace and clearing my bench of all the stuff that accumulates on it during the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

The next S—set in order—means to arrange items so they are easy to find and use. This saves time and energy spent looking for things. Many times I would reach for a clamp or carpenter’s square only to find it was not where it was supposed to be. How frustrating! A classic pegboard arrangement solved the problem. Now I just have to make putting things away a habit!

Finally, I now have a deeper understanding of tolerances and stack-up issues. I didn’t really appreciate that until I had to cut several boards to the same length. No matter how carefully I measured, I could never get the boards exactly the same length. They were always a tiny bit off.

I’ve since learned how to deal with that issue, but the experience made me think of real-world assembly challenges, like parts feeding, turbine manufacturing or automated assembly of vehicle transmissions.

What about you? Has a hobby or home improvement project ever informed your work on the assembly line? Has your work on the assembly line ever influenced a project or past-time? Share your thoughts!

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