Cars of the early 1900s were few and expensive because it took a lot of time to make one. However, Henry Ford came up with an idea to cut both time and cost by integrating conveyor belts into his assembly line. By 1913, his new and improved assembly line could make a Model T in two-and-a-half hours, ushering in the era of affordable transportation.
These days, it’s nearly impossible to find a factory or plant that doesn’t use conveyor belts. They ferry manufactured goods from one end of the facility to the next, all without making people move from their posts. The efficiency Ford achieved with his assembly line in 1913 was phenomenal—what more with today’s assembly lines?
Streamline Production with Conveyor Belts
Conveyor belts may seem like a big-ticket investment, but small enterprises need them as much as big ones do. Keep in mind that the Ford Motor Company was only ten years old when it introduced the assembly line. Therefore, using the advantages you have from the start ensures that your business will eventually have a place among prominent competitors.
Such advantages are more important than ever as the industry as a whole is undergoing a significant change. Experts refer to this as Industry 4.0, harnessing digital technology to improve productivity and interconnectivity. However, the term no longer concerns factories and plants alone—non-industrial businesses are involved as well.
Unless you’re in the business of producing intricate tech, you won’t need the kind of assembly line Ford has. Nevertheless, you need a production line to streamline your processes and fulfill demand more quickly. Here are some tips to get you started in building a conveyor belt production line:
1. Pick the Right Type
Conveyor belts are custom-made for a number of industries handling a wide variety of items. They typically fall under one of the following single conveyor systems:
- Roller Bed – The belt runs on top of a series of rollers rated to move at a certain speed and handle specific weights. This system is ideal for items loaded via gravity, transporting them across the premises with ease.
- Flat Belt – The most widely used type, this system is known for its versatility. The belt can consist of natural or synthetic fibers, allowing for the handling of various goods. Industrial businesses often make use of flat belt systems.
- Modular Belt – This system is ideal for production lines that have to run around corners or tight spaces. The belt consists of interlocking pieces, making cleanup and repair easy. Food production commonly employs modular belts.
- Cleated Belt – The belt consists of cleats for constant spacing even as it goes up and down. The cleats can be custom-made based on the kinds of goods they’ll handle, from the typical T-shape to an inverted V-style.
- Sanitary/Washdown – Designed to comply with sanitary guidelines, this system can handle temperature extremes like food out of the freezer or food coming out after deep frying. It’s also applied to sterilization and washing.
Choosing the right conveyor system involves determining the goods it’ll have to handle regularly. Sometimes, a production line may need to employ more than one system.
2. Consider Lean Manufacturing
Mass production tends to generate a lot of waste, which takes up precious space in the workplace. A start-up that can’t afford a full-fledged factory has to devise ways to reduce generated waste and make the most out of every square footage. Experts say adopting lean manufacturing principles is a step in the right direction.
Lean manufacturing (also called lean production) involves achieving the greatest possible output using the least possible amount of resources. By optimizing various processes and inspiring a sense of teamwork among workers, a ‘lean’ factory can prevent waste buildup.
Aside from material, waste also refers to the work itself. For instance, Toyota’s lean manufacturing principles reduce three types of work-related waste: non-value-adding work, overburden, and unevenness. A production line must always strive to achieve lean-based goals through a combination of teamwork and modernization.
3. Design a Process Flowchart
A production line consists of dozens of steps, each with a dozen more procedures. Visualizing them in a flowchart is an effective way of determining the steps that need conveyor belts and other heavy equipment. Start with the customer’s order and end with preparing to ship the finished product.
For each step in the production line, outline the required equipment, average time, and conditions for passing quality control. In a conventional flowchart fashion, indicate the process for items that don’t pass quality control checks. A smooth production line should have a critical control point for every two to three steps to mitigate defective manufacturing.
Also, include in the chart the steps to take for handling excess materials or canceled orders. It may result in a flowchart that appears complicated, but it lets you see the entire process down to its nuts and bolts, giving you an idea.
4. Minimize Foot Traffic
The idea for getting conveyor belts is to lessen the need for workers to move around the workspace. Designing a workspace that encourages foot traffic defeats the purpose of having a conveyor belt network in place. Build your production line in a way that shortens the distance between steps as much as possible.
Think along the lines of Honda and its Assembly Revolution Cell (ARC) production system. Used in their Thailand plant, the ARC features four workers on a platform that carries the vehicle’s body and necessary parts. Everything they need to complete the car is already on the platform, reducing unnecessary movement and increasing efficiency.
As intricate as it seems, integrating multiple processes in one place lessens the burden on workers and the equipment. Let conveyor belts cover the distance, and your workers stay put.
Whether or not a conveyor belt will be crucial, the constant growth of technology and demand for quality will warrant a production line. Start-ups with an efficient production line are in an excellent position to reap the rewards of producing more in less time and expense. To survive and flourish in this business climate, they must start thinking about the future, just as Ford had dreamed about building “a car for the great multitude.”