Presently, manufacturing industries are constantly facing the challenge to reduce cost through productivity improvement. Considering the uncertain volumes, increasing labour cost, fluctuating demands and changes in customer needs, the challenge is not to merely level up one time but also to sustain the trend continuously.
Fluctuation in customer demand & increase in labour cost year on year leads to product cost increase. To overcome this and remain competitive, Productivity Improvement (PI) activities are a must. For Indian manufacturing industries, adopting conventional automation is still impractical in terms of return on investment (ROI usually requires 10 ~ 15 years). Toyota Kirloskar Auto Parts (TKAP) develops & encourages ‘Low Cost Automation (LCA)’ through innovative and breakthrough ideas to achieve automation in our manufacturing lines at affordable cost, ensuring flexibility to change.
Definition of LCA
Generally, when we discuss Low Cost Automation, we assume it is to implement an automation solution at the lowest cost. We define LCA as ‘a system where man & machine collaborate & work together, meeting expectations of the Toyota way’.
An automation, which consumes zero or very little power (eco-friendly), with zero or minimum actuators (safety), highly flexible & reliable in nature, which occupies less space (lean concept), that needs zero or minimum maintenance (high efficiency), with minimum investment and running cost, is termed as LCA.
TKAP Tool for LCA
Our tool for achieving all the above objectives of Low Cost Automation is termed as ‘Karakuri’— a Japanese word, which means achieving motion with no power or low power. It’s an ancient Japanese technique to move dolls without actuators or power. In Karakuri technique, we use different mechanisms like rope & pulley mechanism, counter weight mechanisms, cam & follower mechanisms, etc, to achieve unique motion or to convert one form of motion into another like vertical to horizontal and linear to rotary. Combining these motions together to form an automation solution requires an engineering approach. Using innovation and creativity, we develop unique solutions of Karakuri automation.
Karakuri versus conventional automation
Unlike conventional automation, Karakuri LCA provides safer, cost-effective, lean & maintenance-free flexible solutions with a target ROI of less than 2 years. Different tools and techniques used in Karakuri automation compared to conventional automation & their advantages are charted in the table. With increase in demand for energy efficient Kaizens to reduce CO2 emission and move towards a green plant, these Karakuri devices promote eco-friendly solutions by utilising no power or low power in the field of automation.
Need for LCA
The need for LCA development was identified during a cross functional group activity – ‘Jishuken’, which means “Time & Motion study”. This activity covers a detailed study of each and every element of work to identify Muda (waste or unwanted work), Muri (burden) and Mura (fluctuation) involved in them. At the end of this activity, Kaizens were carried out to reduce Muda, Muri and Mura thereby increasing the value added work. The Kaizens that require major investments were identified for Low Cost Automation solutions.
The idea for LCA was generated by shopfloor personnel (operator or supervisor) who in turn pitched the idea on to our engineering team to build a concept. Then the concept was converted into design & development by our in-house engineering team. A prototype was developed for unique ideas before actual implementation to check its effectiveness. A 100% in-house solution starting from idea generation till execution & implementation in line makes this truly low cost and appropriate.
As a collaborative effort of Jishuken & LCA, the results were achieved in the form of manual time/effort reduction, consequently achieving productivity improvement. The combined efforts fetched positive results in all the 3 plants of TKAP, not only in terms of man hour reduction and productivity, but also motivating and improving morale of all employees.
As a part of Human Resource Development (HRD) for worklife improvement, we are now setting up a ‘Karakuri Dojo’, a training house for all TKAP employees to learn and implement Karakuri at their work place on their own, to build a safe and lively work environment. The training module covers basics of Karakuri including practical demo of various Karakuri mechanisms & models like:
No power Karakuri
Low power Karakuri
Energy sharing Karakuri
Energy storage Karakuri
Covering both theory and practice along with shopfloor experience will enhance knowledge and skill of our team members to overcome their work place concerns by themselves.
Continuous Improvement (PDCA)
As a part of continuous improvement, we are also developing Low Cost Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGV’s) as a tool of LCA to better utilise our in-house engineering capabilities.
The journey started with development of a simple battery operated manual dolly and now, the in-house made AGV’s can automatically transfer parts from one location to another, thereby, eliminating the Muda of manual conveyance of parts.
The different types of in-house AGV’s at TKAP are:
Our vision is to develop an integrated logistic solution within the plant for all material movement using intelligent AGVs.
To conclude, Low Cost Automation is an effort to develop effective engineering solutions that eliminate wasteful manual effort on the shopfloor and address several aspects of performance such as safety, quality, productivity, environment, morale and cost, a panacea for manufacturing managers.