Alfmeier uses Creform material handling systems from Textube to distribute inventory to assembly workcells.

A wall of flow racks, overrun with inventory, towered above the assembly line. Obstructing views and blocking light, the racks held as much material as could be crammed into them. “I knew there was a better way,” recalls Dean Davidson, the Greenville, SC-based vice president of operations for Alfmeier Corp.

Alfmeier is an automotive supplier, and its clients include BMW and Mercedes-Benz. A few years earlier, Davidson had seen Creform Corp.'s material handling system during a business trip to Japan.

Frustrated with the inefficient flow racks, Davidson made a critical decision. One by one, he ripped out the inflexible, bolted-to the-floor flow racks, and began replacing them with Creform flow racks. This was a bold move because all of Alfmeier’s facilities had agreed to be consistent in everything from dress code to equipment.

When the parent company in Germany didn’t immediately agree with his decision, Davidson forged ahead anyway, and asked his bosses to be patient. “The sales numbers had always been there,” says Davidson. “The problem was overhead. The racking system we had did not facilitate lean thinking. It consumed a great deal of floor space and was hard to clean around. But once we began installing these flow racks and workstations, we took total control of our inventory flow, levels and reorder points. Consequently, our efficiency increased and we reduced inventory by 35 percent.”

As the plant continued converting, productivity continued to improve, but inventory control wasn’t the only reason. “Creform allows us to keep our operators at their workcells and focused on their jobs,” explains Mark Rose-Innes, plant manager at Greenville.

Using a just-in-time philosophy, material handlers make regular rounds, delivering inventory to operators at each workcell. Because Creform flow racks hold material in an organized fashion, the material handlers can determine by sight how much inventory is needed. With this direct-delivery system, operators can stay at their cells and achieve cycle times without interruption. Since implementing this method, production has increased 15 percent.

“In the past, at least once an hour, an operator would stop and run to the warehouse to go ‘shopping’ for materials. It looked like Wal-Mart. But not anymore,” says Rose-Innes. Long gone are they days of convincing the parent company about the benefits of Creform. In fact, the Greenville plant is now the corporate model for efficiency. Also gone are those walls of flow racks that once cluttered the assembly line. Now, both the view and the outlook at Alfmeier are crystal clear.

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