Energy-efficient and environmentally sound, geothermal heat pumps use the Earth’s natural temperature cycles to provide consistent and balanced heating and cooling. Ironically,assembly of these pumps can often be inconsistent and unbalanced.

Florida Heat Pump (FHP) Manufacturing, a Fort Lauderdale-based manufacturer of water source and geothermal heating and cooling equipment, faced this assembly line challenge for many years. Because about 80 percent of FHP’s business is custom-built to order, the company’s batch-and-queue assembly process required FHP to keep inventories of finished goods, raw materials and work-in-progress at high levels to meet peaks in demand.

In 2010, FHP overcame this problem by transforming its assembly line into a one-piece-flow line. Based on lean design principles, the one-piece-flow line has balanced production sequences and increased throughput through improved information and material flow, reduced inventories, and easier movement of heavy components.

FHP became familiar with the one-piece-flow concept in 2009 when the plant’s line supervisor, logistics specialist and lean manager attended a lean line design workshop in Germany. Wilhelm Dieter of the Bosch Production System (BPS) group conducted the workshop.

“We quickly realized that lean manufacturing principles gave us advantages over our existing processes in many different areas—efficiency, materials utilization, parts inventory, product inventory, and safety,” says David Francis, lean manager at FHP. “The next step was to get the actual lean production line started as soon as we could.”

Francis worked closely with Bosch Rexroth’s Linear Motion and Assembly Technologies division to develop the production line. He took part in
several one-on-one training sessions with Thomas Brown, Bosch Rexroth district distribution manager, and Chris Lupfer, Bosch Rexroth project engineer manager, to learn about MPScalc, a lean simulation software tool.

MPScalc enables FHP to create virtual lean manufacturing workstations and place them anywhere in an on-screen factory floor plan for optimum productivity. The software also creates a build sheet that lists workstation dimensions, features and pricing. FHP orders components through Bosch Rexroth’s online framing shop.

FHP runs six residential and two commercial product assembly lines. Shortly after beginning the lean initiative, FHP purchased a building next door to their existing facility to house the one-piece-flow line, known as Line 1. Francis designed the line, and FHP personnel bolted together its sections.

Over the past two years, the production line has reduced work-in-progress by 40 percent, because only 12 products need to be on the line at once instead of 20. The line has stabilized takt time, resulting in a 25 percent increase in production. At the same time, costs have been reduced due to a smaller equipment footprint. For example, conveyor length has been reduced by 30 percent.

The lean configuration reduces waste and eliminates downtime, as line operators no longer need to stop work to retrieve parts. It also prevents bottlenecks that, in the past, represented possible safety or damage hazards.

“Operators appreciate the lean line’s smooth, well-controlled and safe environment,” says Lupfer. “Everybody at FHP wants to work on Line 1.”

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