How to achieve one piece workflow
Christoph Kehrs, the Managing Director of SchuF’s production facility in Eppstein, Germany, shares his insider tips on how to produce valves in small series.
From production facilities in Europe, Asia and North America, SchuF designs and manufactures products such as multiport selector valves, automatic recirculation valves, multi-way diverter valves and lift plug valves, to name but a few.
A high proportion of these valves are all individually engineered, notes Mr Kehrs.
"SchuF is a specialist manufacturer. Our interest is therefore in producing valves that exceed the capabilities of items made by mass production."
This explains why visitors to Eppstein, Germany, will see quite a lot of traditional manufacturing equipment as well as up-to-date CNC machinery, says Mr Kehrs.
"When working on small orders – for example, that can be just a single valve - it can be faster and more convenient to machine parts using a conventional lathe," he states.
Thanks to the typically small order sizes SchuF has been able to embrace the idea of the "one-piece workflow".
The concept is simple: move just a single workpiece at a time between operations within a work cell, as opposed to large-scale batch-processing.
The theoretical benefits include keeping "work-in-progress" at the lowest possible level and encouraging work balance, better quality and a host of internal improvements.
"in practice we find the one-piece workflow system functions very well," says Mr Kehrs.
"It is very flexible, which is really important for us. If our clients request changes in a valve design even after production has started we can normally accommodate them."
Explaining why customers place such small orders, Mr. Kehrs talks about the valve needs of a new PTA facility.
"The client might need 10,000 valves but almost all will be for benign service, such as water, steam, etc. These are readily and cheaply obtainable elsewhere."
"Only a dozen valves might actually be needed to control the entire process and the performance of those few valves can have a direct and huge impact on product quality and plant efficiency."
"That’s the market we are interested in: designing and building valves that meet unique and exacting specifications."
To ensure all orders are completed in a timely fashion, SchuF has invested in its personnel.
"Well-trained and motivated staff are critical for a one piece workflow business," notes Mr Kehrs.
"That’s why we have an apprenticeship scheme in place to properly train new employees and furthermore we encourage staff to become multi-skilled."
"If staff are qualified to work on various tasks it means we can be more flexible and also makes their own jobs that much more rewarding."
Of course managing such a production plant does bring challenges.
"The markets we are in and the business model we have adopted means we have to be very resourceful," notes Mr Kehrs.
"Fortunately my colleagues and I see challenges as opportunities for innovation. There’s never a dull day at the office and that is something we all thrive on."
About SchuF’s Eppstein location
Design and manufacturing of speciality valves
Products include multiport selector valves, automatic recirculation valves, multi-way diverter valves, lift plug valves, etc.
Capacity: Up to 2,000 specialized valves per year
Newest product: Further enhancement of choke valves range