1/5/2018 6:00:00 AM
Manufacturing has changed entirely since Ariens Company’s humble beginnings in 1933. As decades pass, we’ve continuously adjusted our manufacturing methods to meet demand and stay competitive, but it’s the most recent changes that reset the bar in outdoor power equipment production. To accommodate sudden exponential growth, a revolution within the walls of our plants has thrust our production methods to the epitome of 21st century manufacturing.
As part of many changes that occurred in 2015, the Ariens® position as a premium outdoor power equipment brand required development of increasingly innovative and enticing products. Most notably, the introduction of the Ariens Ikon X®, a residential zero-turn lawnmower. At production launch, two shifts operated in an assembly cell capable of producing a sizeable number of units. But two short months later, the swift success of the Ikon X revealed the need for a dramatic production increase.
Doubling production is a lofty goal, but it created an opportunity to explore how to build a better assembly line. The reconstruction concept was drafted on paper, but also proved through a prototype design that was built in a retired manufacturing space known as “Plant 2” by a team lead by our manufacturing engineering group. Ironically, prototype verification and trials directed our future by taking us back to the basics of Henry Ford’s assembly line of work stations and feeder cells, but with a twist.
Automated guided vehicles, or AGVs, digital work instructions and productivity trackers weren’t available in 1913, but are now incorporated into every new assembly module at each of Ariens Company’s three manufacturing plants. Assemblers at each station complete their work as written and illustrated on touchscreen monitors and advance assembly fixtures driven by AGVs to the next station by pushing a button on a pendant. The system records productivity metrics, provides assemblers with communication tools and reduces the risk for sprains and other injuries that can occur by physically moving a heavy assembly fixture. No pushing, no pulling, but battery-powered transport guided along a magnetic strip.
Assembly is a core component to successful manufacturing, but it’s only as strong as the abilities of fabrication and welding. In addition to a reconstructed assembly stage, Ariens Company made large capital investments into some serious machinery. With our first dual-head Miller Panasonic frame weld robot, our first dual-headed FW1100 deck welding robot, two Amada Fiber Lasers, and four Amada HG25 brake presses incorporated into the mix, we crushed the steep goal set at the beginning of the project and tripled production. Good thing too, because the demand in our consumer zero-turn segment for the Ariens and Gravely® brands continues to exceed expectations.
One of the more exciting elements to this project is that it’s ongoing. The reconfiguration blueprint has since expanded to three more assembly lines in our residential zero-turn lawnmower plant, incorporation of new technologies in our Auburn, Neb. facility and a total reconstruction of our Sno-Thro® assembly space. In all instances, the efforts of our operations architects have increased production, created a more efficient use of labor force and reduced lost time. Additionally, the newfound floor space resulting from these initiatives has increased capacity for the advancement of new products and technologies we can’t wait to reveal.