Ferris Industries (Munnsville, NY), owned by Simplicity Manufacturing, began business in 1909 as the Uebler Milking Machine Co. Today the company builds commercial and residential lawn mowers under the brands Ferris, Simplicity and Snapper.

In the late 1990s, Ferris acquired new facilities to accommodate its growing business and the introduction of a number of new models to its product line. Working with state and local government officials, the company obtained an abandoned high school building, which it retrofitted for use as office space. It also secured a series of Empire Zone state grants to construct a new state-of-the-art factory on the school grounds.

Last year, as part of its ongoing effort to increase both productivity and overall capacity, the company installed an automated in-floor towline assembly system from SI Systems (Easton, PA). The tow-line system is currently dedicated to the highest-volume models of Simplicity and Snapper brand mowers: the 44- and 50-inch wide-mower-deck Simplicity Consumer Z models, and the 44- and 50-inch wide-mower-deck Snapper fast cut, zero-turn models.

"When we investigated our alternatives, we, as a team, decided that the three most important evaluation factors would be safety, quality and productivity. SI scored highest in all three categories," says Ferris plant manager John Orth. "Since installing the SI towline system in late September of 2003, we've been able to cut our cycle times in half by systematically pacing the production and balancing workstation assignments. Not only has that greatly improved our productivity, but we now have much better control of the assembly process and a less fatigued workforce."

By incorporating the towline system and other lean manufacturing concepts, Ferris was able to reduce many off-line material handling moves that added no value to the assembly process. The company was also able to use the 12-station, 340-foot long line to incorporate much of its bench subassembly right into the final assembly process. In addition, its LO-TOW conveyor uses ergonomically designed carriers that allow the mowers to rotate to their correct assembly angles, eliminating much of the bending and reaching that adds to worker fatigue and stress.

Orth notes that Ferris used its own workers to both design and build the carriers in order to cut costs. At present the Ferris plant operates three shifts for welding, fabrication and painting to support the single shift mower assembly.

For more information on tow lines, call 610-252-7321 or visit www.sihs.com.