Ergonomic and Space Saving Shuttle Vertical Lift Module System Pays Dividends for Tool and Die Storage
At Rimer Enterprises, Inc. in Waterville, Ohio the installation of a Vertical Lift Module (VLM) automated storage and retrieval system has reduced the potential for work-related injuries and has recovered over 90% of otherwise wasted floor space for other operations.
Rimer Enterprises, Inc. produces precision investment castings using the lost wax method for electrical, food processing, mechanical, marine, textile, machine tool, and other commercial market applications. In this process, a die is first machined and then used to produce a very close tolerance wax pattern. The wax pattern is dipped into a slurry of investment ceramic material to produce a tough outer shell. The shell is heated until the wax runs out and then molten metal is poured into the shell to produce highly intricate parts. The ceramic molds are then broken to retrieve the cast parts.
The aluminum dies used to produce the wax pattern are stored by Rimer for use when additional parts must be produced. The larger, heavier dies are stored on in-house designed and built roller racks. Until recently, the smaller dies, in the five to 40-pound range, were stored in steel shelving eight feet high, 40-45 feet long and about 20 feet wide. To locate a specific die, Rimer associates had to search the shelves and often climb a ladder to retrieve it. Sometimes, associates had difficulty locating a die, particularly on lower shelves where lighting was dim. Associates would physically remove the die and carry it to the production area.
A Potential Liability Becomes a Practical Asset
“The die retrieval process had the potential to result in an injury of some sort,” said Chuck Myers, President of Rimer Enterprises, Inc. “To protect our employees, we needed to find a better ergonomic way of storing and retrieving these dies. The materials handling professionals at Integrated Systems Design came up with a solution for us.”
The solution came in the form of an Integrated Systems Design (ISD) Kardex Remstar Shuttle™ Vertical Lift Module (VLM). The Shuttle VLM is an enclosed system of vertically arranged trays, an extraction platform and a series of controls that automatically delivers stored items to an ergonomically positioned work counter for retrieval … eliminating bending, stretching or reaching. This design concept, which focuses on enhancing the comfort, safety and productivity of employees, also helps companies like Rimer Enterprises meet government social responsibility and safety guidelines. In fact, the very design of the unit helped fund it.
“Because the Shuttle VLM offered us a significant ergonomic improvement in handling our dies, and consequently the potential reduction in Workers’ Compensation claims, the company was able to secure a grant from the State of Ohio that helped offset our cost for the unit,” Mr. Myers said. “The reduction of the potential for just one back injury pays for the system,” he added. “Our employees are our greatest asset, and the cost of the Shuttle VLM vs. its value in improved safe handling of dies gave us a very rapid return on investment.”
The operation of the Integrated Systems Design Shuttle VLM is simple and straightforward. Dies are numbered and the numbers are listed on a spreadsheet along with the number of the Shuttle VLM tray that a specific numbered die is stored on. An associate locates the die needed in the spreadsheet with its corresponding tray number and then enters the tray number into the storage unit’s keypad. The Shuttle VLM automatically delivers the correct storage tray to the associate for easy, ergonomically sound die removal.
Each Shuttle VLM tray at Rimer Enterprises has a capacity of 850 pounds. Associates access the Shuttle VLM many times per day, depending on the shop workload.
Saving Space and Time
The Shuttle VLM has also helped Rimer Enterprises recover over 90% of otherwise wasted floor storage space for additional operations. The shelving system occupied approximately 900 square feet of floor space. The Shuttle VLM occupies only 80 square feet of floor space. The recovered floor space is used for storage of heavier dies on roller racks, roller carts for moving product from process to process and a chiller operation for the controlled cooling of waxes.
Because it is an enclosed storage system, the Shuttle VLM also protects the stored dies and keeps them cleaner than storage on an open shelf. “We use a release agent on the dies and it does attract dust. The Shuttle VLM keeps them cleaner and has reduced the time it takes to clean the dies prior to their use in production,” Mr. Myers said.
Rimer Enterprises is not a stranger to vertical storage and retrieval systems. In addition to the Shuttle VLM, the company also operates six vertical carousels in other operations throughout the 25,000-square-foot, multi-building facility.
“Building up and not out, by taking advantage of unused overhead space, makes economic sense for us,” Mr. Myers said. “Plus, these vertical storage and retrieval systems make work easier for our employees, and that, too, makes sense for us.”