Designing the Perfect SMED Cart

by Dianna Brodine, Plastics Business
Remaking the SMED carts was one component of Nicolet Plastics’ goal to improve its setup time. COURTESY/NICOLET PLASTICS

MAPP Completes SMED Cart Contest

While the contest is over, the opportunity to learn from the entrants has just begun. Too often, innovation is thought of as the invention of the next big app or a new category of mobile devices. However, MAPP knows that innovation often comes in “little” ways – small improvements suggested by employees who are in the trenches day in and day out or from owners who remember the moment when they scraped up enough money to buy the company’s first machine.

To celebrate the ways companies truly get better, MAPP conducted its first annual Innovation and Benchmarking contest. Focusing on recognizing innovative practices and processes within member companies, this year’s Innovation and Benchmarking contest focused on the SMED cart.

Photo entries were due Feb. 1.

Visit to see the contest entrants and gather ideas for elevating existing SMED carts.

Having the right tools available during changeovers can significantly impact the time it takes to accomplish the task. Standardized SMED carts ensure the tools are at hand, reducing the back-and-forth that often occurs as technicians realize the equipment needed is next to another machine or missing altogether. Two injection molders provided insight into their SMED cart redesign processes and the improvements that have resulted. Thank you to Joe Fricke, process engineer at Nicolet Plastics, and Rob Elchynski, operations manager at Viking Plastics, for contributing information related to their own SMED cart redesigns.

What concerns led to the remake of the SMED cart setups?

The SMED carts at Viking Plastics keep tools visible so employees have the tools they needed right at hand. COURTESY/VIKING PLASTICS

Fricke: We had a business goal to improve our setup time, and remaking the SMED carts was one component of that. At the beginning, like a lot of molding shops, all of our techs had their own toolboxes. Once we started cross-training more people to perform changeovers, it became evident that it wouldn’t work to have 20 different tool boxes on the floor. We wanted to have enough standardized tools that no one had to go searching for tools or borrow tools from a different team in the middle of the setup. We started fresh, with the goal that our employees would never have to leave the changeover once it started, because anytime an employee has to walk away, it’s slowing down the process. Now, we do pre-staging where we bring everything we need over to the press, including the carts, mold, water lines, etc.

Elchynski: Before we had the SMED carts, we had some employees with their own toolboxes that they would push around from one machine to another, and we also had a four-wheel cart with a toolbox on top of it. Not everybody had the tools they wanted or needed, and even when the toolboxes were properly stocked, the employees couldn’t always find what they were looking for. We wanted our employees to have the tools they needed right at hand. The best way to make that happen was to design carts that kept the tools visible.

What process was followed for the remake?

Fricke: We felt it critical that the people doing the work be part of the team designing the new carts. Initially, we had five people involved – me and two setup people from each shift. We did multiple spaghetti diagrams and time studies as part of the process. It was evident that each cart needed identical tools in identical locations and an abundance of extra supplies in each cart (including nozzle tips, hose clips, pipe tape, mold sprays, O-rings, etc.). At this time, we have three different machine types. Therefore, some special tools are needed. The team made an evaluation as to whether we could convert those special tools to a standard tool. If it couldn’t be converted, we purchased the tool to remain at that press so no one had to chase it. That eliminates the “scavenger hunt.”

Elchynski: We worked with the setup guys who are responsible for pulling and setting the molds, as well as the supervisors on the shift. The first step was outlining the issues they were having with the tools and getting their input on how to solve those challenges. Around that same time, I saw a picture in a trade magazine with an A-frame shape. That seemed like a good way to keep everything visible, and that photo led to the design of our carts. Because of the input we received, modifications were made. For instance, on the back of our carts, there are small containers to hold other components, such as water lines. We also added a bucket to empty water into – it’s a little thing, but it’s needed every time. The setup technicians did an initial layout and then, rather than shadowboarding the tools right away, they used it for a while. Once all of the setup guys were in agreement that they liked the layout, we shadowed it and put labels on everything.

Is there an inventory process to ensure the carts remain standardized?

Fricke: Every toolbox is shadowboarded, so it’s easy to see when tools are missing. I’m also in the process of creating a checklist with pictures of each tool, where it was purchased and the price. Then, if one is damaged or goes missing, we can replace it and I don’t have to spend time wondering where it was purchased. That also helps people understand how important it is to take care of the cart components, because repurchasing comes off our profit-sharing.

Elchynski: All the setup technicians are responsible for the carts. It’s a self-policing system. Since the carts are shadowboarded, the technicians automatically know at shift change if something is missing.

What has the result been of the SMED cart standardization?

Fricke: The SMED carts have helped to significantly reduce changeover time and the associated stress of looking for tools. We haven’t convinced everyone to take their toolboxes home yet, but we’re getting closer. Having their own tools is a hard thing to let go of, but any new employees who have been trained over the past couple years haven’t even considered bringing in their own tools. We’ve also had more people interested in learning to perform changeovers, because providing these changeover carts means the cost for all of those tools isn’t coming out of their own pockets.

Elchinski: We haven’t specifically tracked the data around the SMED cart changes because we believe if our employees are making improvements, we’re getting better. The minute you make employees justify the improvement by documenting data, they don’t want to do it anymore because you’re taking a process that was supposed to make their lives easier and complicating it. At the same time, we do track SMED time from our last good part to our first good part, and in the last 12 months, we’ve seen an improvement in that time by 60 percent. Now, it’s not all the cart, but it plays into it.

What’s next?

Fricke: We first developed our SMED carts in the first quarter of 2014, and we’re in the middle of another revision right now. I’m adding computers to the setup carts so that setups can be paperless. In addition, a checklist is being created of what tools are expected to be there, including photos. As we’re bringing new people on, we’re finding that not everyone knows what a tool is called, so shadowboarding with a label doesn’t always help. We’re creating a standard list with pictures to help with the training process.

Elchynski: Oddly enough, we may, over time, eliminate or at least repurpose our SMED carts. We have a big focus on continuous improvement at Viking Plastics – it’s all we talk about. Now, as part of the continuous improvement thought process, the technicians are telling us the carts are great, but it would be nice if the tools they needed were at every machine. We don’t know if that can work or not, but evaluating that is the next step for us. We’ll identify two or three machines and talk through what would be needed. There would be a significant initial investment on our part if we had to buy 35 ratchets for 35 machines, but that initial investment may make sense if it saves enough time in setups and changeovers. Again, that may not make sense in the end, but the nice thing is that the guys are seeing new ways to continue improving.