In Brillion, WI, every season is a good season to care about lawn mowers. The reason is because Brillion is home to Ariens Co., a leading manufacturer of walk-behind, stand-on and riding mowers.
Started in 1933, the family-owned company also builds snow blowers, tillers and outdoor power equipment at two other plants in the United States, and one in Oxfordshire, England. Ariens products are used by homeowners and grounds care maintenance professionals. The machines are known for their design, durability, performance and reliability.
All of the company’s plants have practiced lean manufacturing for well over a decade, according to Jim Masters, vice president of manufacturing and engineering. A few years ago, however, managers at Brillion began noticing that a significant portion of operators’ time was spent on positioning fixtures and moving carts (carrying mowers) between workstations.
This problem negatively impacted production, so the company decided in August 2015 to replace its old production method with the SmartCart AGC (automatic guided cart) assembly system from Jervis B. Webb Co. (a subsidiary of Daifuku North America Holding Co.). Masters says that, since then, productivity and throughput has increased by more than 60 percent.
The system includes eight AGCs that stop at seven workstations, laid out in a straight line, during the assembly process. Framing mounted on each cart holds a riding mower that weighs up to 635 pounds, eliminating the need for an operator to manually push the mower from station to station. The stations provide a stable and accurate production flow, and enable real-time productivity tracking.
The carts are guided by a floor-mounted magnetic tape path that can be easily reconfigured in response to product or volume changes. The carts are height-adjustable to optimize operator ergonomics and efficiency, and, according to Masters, they are smaller, cheaper and easier to install than traditional automated guided vehicles.
Implementing the system did require Ariens to replace its U-shaped workcell with a linear assembly line. However, the new layout gives operators and material handlers more access to both sides of the mower. Previously, the inside of the U caused a bottleneck because space got tight. Other system benefits include more consistent production, improved assembly sequencing and a simple way for assemblers to build commercial and residential lawnmowers on the same line.
Eight series of mowers are assembled with the AGC system, including the Ariens IKON X, IKON XL, ZOOM and MAX ZOOM, and Gravely ZT X, Compact-Pro, Pro-Master and Pro-Turn. All mowers share the same basic tubular steel frame, although many components (engines, front axles,
footrests, seats, tires) are unique to different models.
Subassembly lines build components such as control arms and transmissions, and feed them to the main assembly line. Because most joining tasks involve screwdriving, assemblers use a variety of cordless, DC electric and pneumatic tools.
“One of the benefits that AGCs offer is ultimate flexibility,” notes Jon Hanson, director of manufacturing at Ariens. “Being able to customize and quickly modify the guidepath with minimal downtime adds value to the system.”
For more information on automatic guided carts, call 248-553-1000 or visit www.daifukuwebb.com.