Reusables Lead to Reduced Travel Time and Better Inventory Control

Subaru Succeeds Through Proactive Reuse of Existing Containers and Increased Deployment of Handheld Containers to Facilitate Lineside and Inventory Management Improvements, Benefits from Single Source Approach

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Another conversion opportunity discovered was for product movement between Subaru’s Tier 2 and Tier 1 suppliers. Where previously the focus had been only on parts arriving at SIA, the team’s scope was broadened to include shipments of parts going to a Tier 1 supplier for subassembly. “Thinking globally, the cardboard is going to end up somewhere,” Sorg said of the expanded perspective. “If we can do something to avoid that cardboard, we want to do it.”

Reduced Assembler Travel Time and Improved Inventory Control

While meeting its financial and environmental goals, the SIA team also looked to address other needs, such as an increased emphasis on improving assembly line presentation. This was accomplished through converting more parts from bulk bins to totes. While a standard bulk container has a lineside face of 45 inches, several handheld containers can be fit into the same linear space in a line side flow rack. Utilizing a multi-tier flow rack, the team was able to achieve an 83 percent reduction in the lineside space required for each part, and a resulting decrease in assembler walking time. The move to handheld totes also eliminated forklift traffic for replenishment. Instead, tuggers were deployed.

Assembly walking distance was reduced, and line flexibility increased

Assembly walking distance was reduced, and line flexibility increased

As for inventory management, a switch to totes meant that part orders could be more granular. If less than a full pallet of a particular part was required, it could be ordered by the layer, or even just a single tote to better manage against the accumulation of obsolete parts at the end of a run.

Single Source Relationship Aided in Project

One of the success factors for SIA has been the establishment of a single source relationship with ORBIS Corporation, a leading provider of reusable packaging solutions. “They have been a huge asset for us,” Sorg stressed, “and have been important in providing us guidance…it has really helped us with our 2015 model.”

In terms of lessons learned, Sorg emphasized that while environmental and financial goals are highly achievable and rewarding, it is good practice to look beyond them at other opportunities as well, in regard to such areas as assembly line efficiency, space reduction and inventory rightsizing made possible through attention to packaging selection. Going forward, one key challenge for Sorg’s group will be to explore opportunities to increase the use of reusable packaging for imported parts.

We all take this very seriously and we are always looking for ways to improve,” Sorg states. For SIA and its culture of continuous improvement, there is more yet to come.