A LEAN Parts Identification Process Involves Quick-Swap Fixture System

Continuous improvement is fostered in the culture at Armstrong International of Three Rivers, Michigan.  The company’s longevity – more than 115 years in business – is a reflection of this culture.  One recent improvement was made in the identification process for the stainless steel line which tens of thousands of product variations totaling more than 115,000 parts are manufactured per year.  The part marking process may seem like an insignificant step to examine, however in the case of Armstrong, not only has the improvement saved them countless dollars, it resulted in better service for their customers.

Founded by the Armstrong family in 1900, Armstrong International is a private, fifth-generation family-owned company. As manufacturers, their extensive product line provides intelligent solutions in steam, air, and hot water for a variety of industries.  Throughout The Great Depression, two world wars, multiple recessions, Armstrong International continued to evolve, expand and thrive. Today, their global enterprise has more than 3,000 employees and representatives serving the world.

Armstrong employees discovered that over time, the labels that identify their parts were not holding up under harsh conditions.  Parts were difficult to identify for service and replacement many years later.  The solution was to purchase a large capacity laser marking machine to etch information permanently.

Given the extraordinary volume and variety, Zac Findlay, Senior Manufacturing Engineer at Armstrong knew the process would not be complete – or investment maximized – without a way to fixture the parts.  Through an online search, John Schneider, Lead Manufacturing Engineer found a ready-made, quick-swap solution perfect for their applications.   They purchased a sampling of Laser Arsenal™ Loc-N-Load™ fixture plates to test his idea.  “Our sample worked so well that we ended up purchasing twenty-five plates that accept five different fixture types. This allows us to use the same machine coordinates every time making setup and part swap fast and easy.” according to Findlay. In order to start with the LEANest process, the laser machine and new fixturing was integrated into Armstrong’s ERP system as soon as it hit the shop floor. This way, the operator can simply scan the work order to display the part program which then prompts to load the associated fixture A, B, C, D, or E. To change-over jobs, operators quickly and easily un-click the fixture, swap in a new fixture and hit run!

Parts are nested in machined plastic blocks that are affixed to Loc-N-Load™ plates. To make the process even more visual, fixtures are identified by their numbers and etched with associated part model numbers. “The highly accurate, click-to-lock and quick-to-swap concept of Loc-N-Load™ fixture plates and docking rails allow us to changeover in a very short amount of time and keep machine coordinates static. We also built an extension onto the side of the machine to house our rotary indexer. We affixed that to a large plate that quickly locks into place when a job requires and just as quickly removed and set aside.”

Zac concludes, “We are very happy with the combined solution of our new laser machine and the Loc-N-Load™ fixture system. The fixturing, in particular, allows us the flexibility to run any number of unique parts per hour without lengthy setup and changeover time. It takes about a minute to change all five plates out to run a different part. With two operators and the volume of parts marked, the system will pay for itself very quickly.”  More permanent product identification will also save our customer service and technicians time, and more importantly improves the product and service to our customers.

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