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As manufacturers of container-based structures, we face the unique challenge of producing construction-heavy projects in a manufacturing environment. To make our production process as streamlined and efficient as possible, we turn to design for manufacturing (DFM).
Design for manufacturing is the engineering practice of designing products in a way that’s easier and more cost-efficient to manufacture. When implemented well, DFM leads to lower production costs, a quicker time to market, higher quality products, and an overall efficient process for both the manufacturer and customer. We’ll walk you through a few ways we’ve incorporated design for manufacturing principles here at Falcon Structures.
We use an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to streamline production. The ERP system links sales, purchasing, inventory, and production, acting as the operating system for the company. The ERP system keeps our operations synchronized and efficient, but it’s also an invaluable tool in our design process.
Our engineering team relies heavily on the ERP system when gauging the scope of a project. We’ve carefully curated a library of floorplans, sub-assemblies, modifications, and more, that contain the important details of a job. We’re able to calculate labor hours and track pricing. We can even specify modifications down to the number of nails needed.
There’s a plug-and-play element to our ERP system, allowing us to use our library to duplicate and slightly modify floorplans, switch out modifications, or create new build-outs without having to start from scratch. The ERP system simplifies the beginning stages of a project, and it helps maintain consistency and quality standards on the production side.
Design for manufacturing considers all processes from start to end. We’ve learned that to reach the overall level of efficiency we want and need, we sometimes have to rethink individual processes within production.
For example, in the case of a floor plan that requires a lot of plumbing, like a container bathroom, we’ve learned the best approach is to add a false floor above the real floor. This makes the process easier on the plumbers, so they can consolidate drain lines and output points without having to cut through steel. However, it adds to the carpenters’ labor to raise the entire floor. We optimize the plumbing process, yet slow down the carpentry process. While it may seem counterintuitive to slow down one manufacturing process for the sake of another, it’s the right choice to streamline the project as a whole.
Another way we design for manufacturing is by batching out manufactured parts for our modified shipping containers. Many jobs are based on one of our pre-designed floor plans, so we anticipate production needs by creating some components en masse ahead of time. If you walk around our production yard, you might spot inventories of welded subframes for doorways and windows, as well as wooden framing for insulating our popular office floor plans. Batching out parts like these saves time and labor, contributing to a quicker turnaround for the customer.
Our goal is to create a scalable manufacturing process so we can produce many of the same designs at once. Often, that means looking at the highly customized components of a project and trying to make them manufacturable.
We manufacture welded door subframes on site because most of our floorplans use the same size. In the example of the raised floor for plumbing, the typical door subframe doesn’t work because the floor is higher than usual. Initially, we’d use a special-made door subframe, but it took extra time and labor. We recently redesigned this process so we can use the typical door subframe, even with a raised floor. By finding the atypical part of our process and thinking of it from a manufacturability perspective, we implemented design changes to speed up the process without adding labor or expensive materials.
We’ve seen many benefits from implementing a DFM mindset. Our projects run much more efficiently, and we’re able to keep our prices competitive. But most of all, it helps us meet our timeline commitments. Traditional construction is plagued with delays, but as a modular building manufacturer, we’re able to control all aspects of production. We aren’t bogged down by contractor delays, supply interruptions, or late-term redesigns. By implementing a DFM mindset, we’re able to deliver modified shipping container structure solutions through a low-stress, cost-efficient, and surprisingly fast process.
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