Eco-Latch Systems, LLC’s Box Latch™ Products Narrative
At work for Belimo USA
While pursuing efforts to further his company’s lean manufacturing initiatives, Michael Gallo at Belimo USA discovered that using Eco-Latch System’s (ELS) Box Latch™ Products in the production of Belimo’s actuators and valve assemblies for HVAC systems produced far more benefits than he ever envisioned. Those benefits include saving money and the environment by: a) extending the lives of boxes by repurposing and re-using them, b) reducing and/or eliminating tape on shipments to and from downstream suppliers, c) reducing transportation and environmental impact costs by replacing heavy, space-wasting, double-high wooden crates with lightweight, compartmentalized boxes, d) re-using boxes that otherwise would be sent to recycling, e) saving floor space that now is available for other uses, f) saving time and motion (labor) by reducing touch points at assembly cells, and g) reducing the carbon imprint as petroleum-based plastic totes are replaced with corrugate boxes. To learn how his team did this, read on.
Section 1: The Back Story
1. What led Michael Gallo at Belimo® to test and purchase Box Latches™?
As a manufacturing engineer, Michael Gallo knew there had to be a more cost effective and environmentally friendly way to transport parts received from his company’s downstream suppliers in Waukesha, WI and Rochester, NY arriving at Belimo’s USA assembly plant in Danbury, CT. His employer was deeply interested in lean manufacturing principles that would support the company’s sustainability mission. Michael’s goal of streamlining the assembly process for Belimo’s products peaked in the summer of 2016 when he learned about the value and availability of the Box Latch™ and how, with innovation, its use could fulfill these objectives.
2. What does the end-user of this narrative manufacture and assemble?
Belimo is a listed clean technology company with a staff of more than 1,400 worldwide. The company is a global market leader in the development, production and marketing of actuator and valve solutions for controlling heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Actuators, control valves, and sensors make up the company’s core business. Their products help create comfort, safety, and efficiency in buildings while providing solutions that increase energy efficiency and reduce installation costs.
3. What kinds of assembly processes are performed at the Danbury, CT plant: welding, fastening, bonding or pressing?
A firsthand visit at Belimo USA in Danbury, CT revealed the assembly of parts from internal and external manufacturing locations that includes hand assembly by fastening and pressing them into finished products.
4. Is there testing and packaging there as well?
Each product is tested after assembly and then packaged for single use, bulk sales, or transfer to the company’s customization lines for further value added features.
5. How long has Belimo been around, and has its product mix changed over the years?
Belimo was founded in Switzerland in 1975; its USA division came into existence in 1987. The mix of products has continued to grow beginning with simple linear actuators, then rotary actuators. As technology advanced they have added rotary actuators applied specifically to valve applications, custom valve solutions and, ultimately, the Energy Valve. Most recently a broad range of temperature, pressure, humidity, CO and VOC sensors have been added to the product range. These technologies all help to manage air and water HVAC systems and smoke and heat detection for small, medium and large commercial buildings.
6. What led Belimo to pursue a closed loop transportation system with Wisconsin Metal Parts (WMP)?
Because of the high quality production of parts manufactured by WMP and their eagerness to fill any and all of Belimo needs, these parties have been working together for a decade. Thus, when Michael looked for ways to save money and improve the transportation of parts from Wisconsin to Connecticut, Dave Holzer at WMP was ready to embrace any ideas that would work. Further details of this low tech solution can be found in Section 2 Question 5.
7. How will this affect Belimo’s plans for dealing with suppliers in the future?
Buyers of parts and products set the rules for suppliers. Because this new system has produced such a successful outcome, Michael said, “It’s simple. We will simply tell future suppliers that this is the closed loop, re-usable box system we use with our suppliers and we expect any new vendors to comply with it.”
Section 2 : Box Latch™ Products Used by Belimo US
1. As an end-user manufacturer of finished products for sale, which of Eco-Latch Systems’ (ELS) Box Latch™ Products does Belimo use?
Belimo USA has been using the Box Latch™ for nearly a year with increasing application in packaging, storage, line-assembly and transportation systems.
2. On which Box Latch™ Products does Belimo want to focus for this narrative?
The Box Latch™ (BL) Medium in the past and the BL Large for the future. However, as a manufacturing engineer, Belimo’s Michael Gallo also is interested in the Box Latch™ Small with one or two Anchors. That is a one piece unit in final stages of development by ELS. Its beauty is that it is can remain on boxes and weighs less than half that of the other Box Latch™ Products. However, since that product still is in development and, because of its versatility, Belimo USA purchased 2,500 of the BL Large in August 2017. This will allow for expanded use of their latches on ever increasing sizes and wall thicknesses of boxes.
3. With respect to this specific product, the Box Latch™ Medium, how long has Belimo been using it?
More than one year in the Danbury, CT and Hinwil, Switzerland facilities.
4. How did Belimo find out about this product?
Michael viewed it at the Box Latch Products website. An initial purchase already had been made by Belimo headquarters in Switzerland where ELS’s Box Latches™ are used to close filled boxes during circulation on conveyors that, ultimately, are placed on palettes using a vacuum lift device.
5. How is this Box Latch™ Product used during Belimo’s assembly process?
The latches are used in multiple settings.
A) In the past, Belimo’s solution for transporting metal parts from suppliers to their production lines has been via wooden crates. Figures 1 & 2. These wooden crates hold parts well, but have many disadvantages. They are 1) heavy, 2) easily damaged, 3) expensive, 4) difficult to move, 5) space inefficient and 6) do not mesh with Belimo’s lean manufacturing While investigating creative solutions, Michael and his team felt that using an existing, reusable corrugated box was the best option. What was missing was a method to easily open, close and secure the boxes. Box Latch™ to the rescue. The result for Belimo was the elimination of an estimated $15,000 expense to purchase a new set of wooden cartons.
Supported by the Belimo lean production team, Michael designed and purchased box inserts illustrated below in Figure 3 for approximately $500. This produced a savings of $14,500 vs. purchasing a new set of wooden crates. Belimo employs these previously used and, now repurposed, boxes in an external closed loop system to transport parts from Wisconsin Metal Parts in Waukesha, WI to Danbury, CT. Figures 3-5 show the creativity of this team on the floor of Belimo’s 300,000 sq. ft. manufacturing and assembly plant. When empty, the empty boxes are stacked eight-high, shrink wrapped on pallets and shipped back to WI at a lower cost than transporting the heavy wooden, space-wasteful crates.
As one example of the savings, when one part was shipped in a wooden crate, it held 120 pcs per crate. Thus, 10 wooden crates held a total of 1,200 pcs. With parts now being shipped 80 pcs per corrugate box, 2,560 pcs occupy the same space as did the 10 wooden crates. Even more impressive, 10 empty crates wrapped together at 50 lbs/crate weighed 500 lbs. A full pallet of 32 empty boxes weighs a mere 180 lbs. This produces an environmental benefit and transportation savings equal to 320 pounds less freight as they re-use and return boxes that now hold twice as many pieces as did the wooden crates. The frosting on the cake is that eliminating the wooden crates frees up considerable floor space in the assembly cells, while fitting perfectly with Belimo’s lean manufacturing principles.
B) What end-user products does Belimo assemble?
The Belimo valve and actuator products depicted in Figure 6 and others like it.
C) What assembly problem has Belimo solved as they produce these products?
The problem involved the receipt of individual parts from their supplier in heavy wooden crates. As an element of their continuing lean initiatives, the wooden crates produced high freight costs, required excessive material handling and were inconvenient for the material handlers and assemblers.
As one example, Belimo would receive 1,400 pcs of one metal part stacked flat in a wooden crate, Figure 8. To position the parts at a higher elevation for easier access by operators, the full wooden crate was placed over an empty one. At each cell, assemblers had to remove a small quantity of parts from the crate located across an aisle. Every element of this material handling was inefficient.
Going forward, the material handlers will drop skids of 1,600 pieces, as seen in Figure 7. These occupy the same footprint as the wooden crates that held 1,400 pieces shown in Figure 8. A key difference is that the single boxes on the skids now can be loaded directly into the lean assembly cell, reducing the number of part touches.
Figures 9 - 11 illustrate Belimo’s empty, re-usable, compartmentalized boxes before and after they have been filled with different types of parts. When asked, “How many uses do you obtain from these boxes?” Michael’s response was, “Endless. We’ve never counted.” Note the “reusable” marking in Figure 9 printed on Belimo’s high quality boxes.”
6. What did Belimo do before using Box Latch™ Products?
Belimo’s material handlers previously lifted parts out of the large wooden crates seen in Figure 8 and placed them on the assembly tables or in smaller plastic totes at the back of the assembly tables seen in Figures 12 and 13. The parts that previously were delivered in wooden crates and stored in the aisle across from the assembly cell now are placed to the left of the station as shown by the arrow in Figure 13. At some assembly cells, parts were delivered or stored in the black or blue plastic totes seen in both of these photos. Many of these totes will be replaced with the open, compartmentalized boxes seen in Figure 15.
7. What are the benefits of this new system?
A) By using smaller, reusable, compartmentalized boxes to hold parts closed with Box Latches™, the lean production team has eliminated extra touches of parts. At the same time, this new system facilitates easier loading of boxes filled with parts into the ever leaner assembly cells.
B) To further improve sustainability and the transport and flow of parts in Box Latch™ closed boxes, Michael’s team came up with an idea that replaces the plastic totes at the end of the right arrow in Figure 13 with custom produced boxes. As seen in Figures 14-15, this innovative box has only two major and no minor flaps. The minor flaps on this rectangular box are cut off and placed under the compartment inserts. This adds strength to and fills the void in the middle of the bottom of the box so that the inserts lie flat across the entire surface. This makes it simple to close the boxes with a Box Latch™, hold them open with yellow plastic clips purchased from Bee Packaging and replace the plastic totes with lightweight, re-usable boxes as shown in Figure 15.
When these boxes are stored at their work stations, assemblers merely reach into the compartmentalized boxes at the left end of the assembly station (Figure 13) or up and into the new, small boxes shown in Figure 15. Parts now can be removed one at a time instead of in handfuls as was the case when they were delivered in wooden crates. It also allows for replacing empty boxes with full ones as assemblers load and unload their cells from the back side. The empty boxes are closed with latches, palletized and returned to the start point of this closed loop system in Wisconsin.
Many of these changes reduce “one or more touch points” for each product assembled. The expectation is that this will increase the number of products per shift, resulting in reduced operation expenses.
8. What number of Belimo’s products involve the use of the latches during production?
The total volume of parts used and various products sold where Box Latches™ participate in time and material savings are in the tens of thousands per year. On the production side, Box Latches™ were tested first with one part to see if this closed system would work as desired. Because of the success of that test, Belimo is now using reusable boxes and Box Latches™ with five different parts produced by two different suppliers, i.e., Wisconsin Metal Parts in Waukesha, WI and Alton Manufacturing, Inc. in Rochester, NY.
As the use of the Box Latches™ continues to penetrate Belimo’s innovations, increasing numbers of boxes closed with Box Latches™ and without tape are appearing throughout their manufacturing plant. (Figures 16 - 18)
9. Were Belimo’s suppliers open to rethinking the Belimo parts delivery and product assembly process?
When this idea was introduced to downstream supplier, Wisconsin Metal Parts, their staff willingly participated in the adoption of this innovative, low technology system built around the concept of re-using materials. Figure 19 shows Belimo’s Michael Gallo and WMP’s Dave Holzer celebrating the success of this closed loop box and Box Latch™ re-use project.
The results of all this creativity, innovation and effort save money by
A) Repurposing and re-using boxes that otherwise would be sent to recycling. (This means they are supporting the ELS goal of re-using 10% of the world’s boxes 10 times in order to reduce the world’s need to recycle boxes by 40%.)
B) Extending the lives of their high quality boxes,
C) Reducing and/or eliminating tape on shipments from Waukesha, WI to Danbury, CT,
D) Reducing transportation and environmental impact costs by replacing heavy, space wasting, double-high, wooden cartons with lightweight, compartmentalized corrugate boxes transported via shrink-wrapped pallets,
E) Saving valuable floor space on their assembly floor that is now available for other uses,
F) The fact that material handlers and assemblers love this system because it saves time and motion by reducing touch points at their assembly cells,
G) Reducing the carbon imprint as petroleum-based plastic cartons within the company’s manufacturing and assembly process are replaced with corrugate boxes.
10. Does Belimo have plans to use other Box Latch™ Products?
This same idea and process developed and implemented with Wisconsin Metal Parts now is being pursued with a second downstream supplier of parts, i.e., Alton Manufacturing in Rochester, NY. The concept also is being applied within Belimo’s internal closed loop manufacturing and product assembly process in other sectors of their Danbury, CT plant.
Prepared by Jim Wilson, CEO, ELS, Box Latch™ Products with permission and assistance from Michael Gallo, Belimo USA.