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Pieces of the puzzle Featured

7:00pm EDT January 29, 2008

Have you ever tried putting a puzzle together, only to find that you don’t have all the right pieces? Depending on how much time you’ve put into the process, the ordeal can certainly prove frustrating — even more so when many people have contributed.

That was the case for Mike Watts Jr., who, as president of Astro Manufacturing & Design, saw business constrained by erratic inventory management.

When producing a patient couch support for Philips Medical Systems’ CT scanners, for example, Astro’s employees engaged in a complex manufacturing system that included 38 separate parts. Managing the inventory of so many parts can prove difficult in its own right, but this particular task was made especially difficult because most were manufactured by more than 25 outside suppliers.

With so much to coordinate, production routinely sputtered to a halt when a necessary piece or part went out of stock. This problem was only exacerbated in a fluctuating customer forecast that changed on a literal day-to-day basis.

To combat this problem and make sure employees had all the pieces of the puzzle to work with from the onset, Watts implemented a replenishment system using color-coded tags to track inventory on a real-time basis.

The new process was implemented by stocking inventory in a three-bin system, with each bin designated as green, yellow or red. Stock is first pulled from the green bin, then yellow and so forth. The color-coding provides an easy way to track inventory consumption and signal when new stock should be purchased.

The green bins, for example, denote a comfortable amount of inventory. When employees start pulling from the yellow bin, production is tracked more carefully and plans for future purchases are put in place. When inventory is taken from the red bin, the appropriate amount of inventory is purchased based on the plan that was devised a step earlier.

When properly balanced, Astro maintains the right amount of inventory and consistently finishes every “puzzle” with 100 percent on-time delivery.

HOW TO REACH: Astro Manufacturing & Design, (888) 215-1746 or www.astromfg.com