Thomas Siegenthaler, Head of Production Traction Converters, ABB Switzerland Ltd.
Successful partnership for a lean factory
The traction converter is at the heart of every train. It converts the current from the overhead lines and passes it on to the motor. It’s responsible for smooth acceleration, helping trains the world over to arrive at their destination on time. We produce such converters in the ABB plant in Turgi. Our customers – train manufacturers – have high expectations of our products. They demand maximum flexibility, a long service life, low-cost maintenance and servicing and absolute reliability. Factors that directly impact our production: lean workflows, flexible processes and, of course, maximum productivity. Our traction business is growing at a double-digit rate annually. We worked on several major projects over the last few years. That motivated us to think about how we could improve productivity. We wanted to transform Turgi into a state-of-the-art production site for traction converters over the next few years.
Optimize the C-parts management
One of the key questions was how we could best manage C-parts. Our answer was Vendor-Managed Inventory, or VMI, from Bossard, our long-standing supplier of C-parts. The new VMI system is interesting to us and allows us to optimize processes and workflows. Of course, you could say they’re just C-parts. However, if one screw is missing, we can’t deliver on time. That introduces a financial element, even for just a tiny, missing C-part.
Optimized range of products and delivery directly to the production stations
At ABB, traction converters are produced along production islands. Each station needs its own range of C-parts. The previous manual system was too inflexible, error-prone and time-consuming. After all, with a 26-week delivery cycle for certain C-parts, automation is key. After streamlining the range of C-parts, we installed SmartBin, our automated Kanban system. Today our people deliver the requested items directly to the production stations into the appropriate bins. I was impressed by the dedication and seriousness that ABB demonstrated in tackling this complex challenge. Working with our experts, our colleagues at ABB took a good deal of time and effort to thoroughly analyze the entire range of C-parts, resulting in a solid foundation from which to proceed.
Reliability and safety
Since then, I haven’t seen a single empty screw bin. The availability of screws and C-parts ensures reliability and lies at the heart of process stability and timely processing and delivery of our products. Every day we strive to grow and continuously improve our processes, and the fact that we received the 2014 Industrial Excellence Award proves that we are on the right track. I firmly believe that the close partnership between Bossard and ABB was a crucial factor in the project’s success, a financially quantifiable success that is evident each and every month. That’s what I call Proven Productivity.