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Cart Production Line

A production line comprising multiple carts and powered by air cylinders. An environment-friendly production system that can respond flexibly to production volume and equipment model changes

Environment-friendly production system that can respond to high-mix low-volume production

The Ricoh Group produces imaging equipment such as copiers and printers at production sites in five global regions: Japan, the Americas, Europe, China, and the Asia-Pacific region. In the 1980s, a period of expansion for OA equipment, conveyor lines suited for mass production were installed at production sites, thus achieving high production efficiency through automation. Copiers, however, subsequently acquired many additional functions, including printing, scanning, and network functions, and in response to diversifying customers needs there was a large increase in the variety of copier models, with the industry entering a period of high-mix low-volume production.

In response to this production trend, in 1999, the Ricoh Group began gradually discontinuing fixed conveyor lines and introducing a layout-free production system capable of responding flexibly to production volume and equipment model changes.

In the cart production line, which is an example of this initiative, multiple carts lined up in a row and powered by air cylinders move along the production line carrying products. Because huge, high energy-consuming conveyors are not required, this system has brought considerable reductions in environmental impact and energy costs; enabling a reduction in electricity consumption of 99% compared with conventional conveyor line motors. Moreover, as the layout can be freely changed, the formation can be rearranged on a case-by-case basis to suit equipment models and production volumes.

image:How the cart production line works
Figure 1:How the cart production line works

Features of cart production line

The cart production line has the features as follows;

(1)Layout-free production system with no fixed facilities (A small facility that can respond flexibly to changes)

A small facility that can be moved easily: Cart production line

(2)Energy and space can be saved by eliminating fixed facilities.

  • With conventional fixed conveyor lines, electricity consumption remained constant despite changes in production volumes.
  • Maximum and effective use of space can be achieved.

(3)Multiple production lines can be operated simultaneously. (Parallel production lines)

The system enables parallel production of a highly varied mix of product models and simultaneous execution of processes requiring long hours of labor, thereby reducing lead time and in-process inventory arising from changes in production volume.

image:Major features of the cart production line
Figure 2: Major features of the cart production line

In-process inventory, lead time, space, and maintenance are all reduced by 70-80%. In addition, reductions in air-conditioning and lighting costs are also achieved because the system uses less space compared with conventional conveyor lines, which require various peripheral equipment.
This cart production line has been improved to be used as a model for introducing the layout-free production system in other production sites around the world.

image:Cart production line
Figure 3:Cart production line