Mazak - Shuttle VLMs Increased Productivity 80% Using 44% Less Labor

The largest metal cutting builder in the world

Application: Parts distribution to end users


Equipment: Thirteen Shuttle VLMs grouped in four pick-and-pass workstations integrated with Inventory Management Software


Summary: Improved productivity 80% while reduced labor requirements by 44% and increased part numbers by 95%

With the trend toward high productive, multitasking machines, quick response with repair parts and on-site service in order to keep machine utilization at a high level have taken on a new level of importance in today’s manufacturing environment.  One company that has stepped up to meet this challenge is Mazak, the largest metal cutting builder in the world.

Mazak’s customer commitment is clearly evidenced in their newly redesigned North American parts center located in Florence, Kentucky.  Upgrading to an automated facility, the warehouse’ superior efficiency is based on a state-of-the-art parts storage and retrieval system, Designed and built by Kardex Remstar, the system handles 39,000 different part numbers with less labor and unprecedented speed.

“Mazak has made a very strong investment into its aftermarket services because we recognize that our equipment is running in many manufacturing facilities on a 24 hour/7 day a week basis,” says Steve Trammel, National Parts Manager with Mazak. “With lean manufacturing and multitasking so prevalent, it is extremely important that parts be available immediately to support our customers.”  During the six-month installation period some 19,000 new part numbers were added.

The Need for Automation
Until recently, Mazak’s stockroom consisted of pallet racks and small vertical lift modules (VLMs) that were manually operated.  The orders would print out in the stockroom, and workers would use forklifts, skyjacks, ladders and manual VLMs to pick parts.  The workers carried the picked orders to the packing areas where they were packed and shipped – 90 percent of them via overnight carriers, and the remaining 10 percent, which were larger items, through contract shipping.

“Nobody orders parts at 8:00 in the morning,” continues Trammel.  “Part orders come in the afternoon and then we have to get them out the same day for delivery to our customers.  That was becoming a huge challenge for us in how our stockroom was operating.  We have to push through 1,000 to 1,200 orders in pretty much a 6-hour window, and we were increasingly throwing more and more manpower into it to deal with the situation.”

Newly Automated Parts Center
Mazak stocks 46,000 part numbers at its Florence, Kentucky parts center dedicated to aftermarket parts support. Today the facility is automated, incorporating parts identification with bar coding, pick-to-light, inventory management software, and computerized order monitoring and tracking.

The new system works like this:  Once an order is received and processed into Mazak’s order processing system, the order is ready for picking. Each order is assigned to a tote with a fixed license plate, and is placed on a conveyor in the front end of the system and sent from workstation to workstation collecting parts.

When a tote arrives at a workstation, the operator scans it and then scans a light on the batch station to associate the tote with the corresponding light in the software. The operator can pick eight orders simultaneously.

Within each workstation, the Shuttle VLMs move to deliver the product to the operator, and a customer specified barcode part label is printed. The lights light on Shuttle VLMs directing the operator to the location to pick and how many pieces to pick. The operator picks the product as directed by the Shuttle VLM, attaches the printed barcode label to the product and turns around to place it into the correct tote or order as directed by the lights on the batch station. The operator then picks the next part presented by the Shuttle VLM.  This is repeated until the order has all parts required from that workstation.

When an order is complete the lights direct the operator to push the tote back onto the conveyor, where it either gets routed to packing, or into another workstation downstream for further fulfillment. Shipping information is automatically forwarded to the pack area, as well as to overnight shipping carriers to speed package pick up and delivery. Underneath the conveyor is another conveyor system for empty tote returns, cycling the totes back to the front of the system, making for a very efficient operation.

Vertical Lift Modules- Old and New
The old vertical lift systems used by Mazak were not computer interfaced or computer driven. There were 12 units and they were much smaller than the new units.  The operator would use a location guide next to each of the units, and manually type in what tray number they wanted into a keypad.  There were no lights or software, the system was completely manual.

Mazak installed 13 Shuttle VLMs grouped in four pods, in pick-and-pass workstations. Each tray can hold up to 1,100 pounds of parts.  The trays themselves are eight feet wide and 34 inches deep.  One of the VLMs is a larger and more heavy duty unit, which is designed for bigger and heavier parts.  The 13 VLMs are a combined 125-foot length, with a conveyor line running in front of them.

In Mazak’s prior system, a worker with an order in his hand would have to look at a tray that might have 50 or 60 parts in it, and he had to find that specific part in the tray specified in the order.  The new Kardex Remstar Shuttle VLMs are equipped with pick-to-light technology.  The Transaction Information Center (TIC) is a light bar that runs across the front of the unit and directs the operator to the exact location of the part to pick and displays the quantity to pick as well as the part number.

Tracking Parts… & Orders
When a customer’s order is called in, it is immediately entered into Mazak’s network system which tracks the status of each order as it moves through fulfillment. Tracking the order though the system allows Mazak to make real time changes to the order, such as handling a customer request to add an item to the order.

Software from Kardex Remstar, acts as a transaction processor, controlling the operation of the Kardex Remstar Shuttle VLMs, supplying operator instruction and printing barcode labels. The software is integrated with Mazak’s existing enterprise software system, PRMS, to control inventory and provide a graphical display of the active totes in the system at any time on monitors at critical processing points, such as pick stations and shipping.

Same Space with More Parts
Mazak kept the same footprint in the parts warehouse, but was able to increase storage capacity within that space by 95 percent, due to the much denser storage capability. The previous VLMs were handling 20,000 individual part numbers. All of those, plus another 19,000 part numbers for new machine models, for a total of 39,000 parts, are now being handled by the new Shuttle VLMs within the same footprint.  Another 7,000 oversized part numbers are stored on racking in the warehouse.

Five Point Accuracy Check System
When an order for a part comes into the warehouse it is critical that it be picked accurately and shipped immediately so that its customer can receive it the next morning, and have the right part to get their machine up and running.  To ensure this occurs, Mazak has implemented a five-point check system: (1) the warehouse ensures that sufficient inventory is available; (2) every part is labeled with a barcode for identification; (3) picking lights on the VLMs display the stock number and part name of the part being picked; (4) the batch station re-displays a visual, digital message of the pick order; and (5) at packing parts in the totes are checked against the original order for accuracy. This five point check system has improved picking accuracy from 98 percent to 99.67 percent.

Picking More with Less People
“We saved significant labor,” explains Trammel.  “Previously, we were using nine workers, each handling 111 orders per day.  It was all we could do to get our orders out – running to pick the part, picking the part, then taking it over to packing.”
With the Kardex Remstar system the parts are brought to operators in workstations.  This new system is run with five workers instead of nine, each handling 200 orders per day. Orders picked per person per hour has increased by 80 percent – 13.9 picks per labor hour before, and 25 picks per labor hour now.

“The Kardex Remstar system also helped us increase our same-day shipping percentage too,” says Trammel.  “Prior to this system we were in the 95-plus percent range of shipping same day on our orders.  Now we are up to 97.5 percent.  Same-day shipping is no longer an issue.”

Positioned for a Changing MarketMazak’s intention is to be closer to each of its markets, 30 technology centers located around the world providing support to its customers is testament to this intention. Its newly automated North American parts center in Kentucky, with its streamlined automation capability, is another indicator of the company’s desire to provide its broad base of customers with superior support and service.