Booming demand for a new product can be a dream for sales representatives and a nightmare for plant managers if they're not prepared for the increased volume. Heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. faced demand-planning issues when the company introduced its 993K wheel loader in March 2008.
The company's Aurora, Ill., plant responded by creating a new value-stream manufacturing system that created a dedicated line for the 993, Cat reported in November. The plant initially was struggling to keep pace with rising volume after 993K sales exceeded the company's expectations. When the economic downturn hit full swing sales dropped, giving the plant an opportunity to revamp operations.
The plant used a virtual planning system to plan floor space for streamlined material flow, according to Amit Kashyap, the plant's manufacturing engineering manager. Digital files from the 993's design engineers were used to create step-by-step "playbooks" for assemblers that provided instructions for installing all the components on the products.
The instructions will eventually be provided to assemblers on their own laptops and on a large flat-screen monitor adjacent to the assembly line. The assemblers, who were involved in developing the playbooks, used avatars, or simulated people, in the digital environment to determine whether operations could be performed efficiently, Kashyap says.