When improvised explosive devices (IEDs) became the weapon of choice against U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military vehicles provided little protection. Military officials determined that a heavily armored vehicle with a V-shaped hull would deflect the explosion and protect troops better than any other option. Demand for mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles accelerated rapidly. Within three months, the number of MRAPs ordered by the Department of Defense rose from 205 to 2,200 per month. By September 2012, U.S. manufacturers had produced 27,740 MRAPs.
RedViking (www.redviking.com) is a control system integrator headquartered in Plymouth, Mich., with expertise in designing and building flexible, highly automated integrated production systems. It was a key player in helping manufacturers meet the challenge. In 26 weeks, RedViking took an empty warehouse and converted it to an automated military vehicle assembly line with all supporting systems, including fluid tank farm and delivery, glass house and end-of-line testing.
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Because MRAPs initially were considered special-use vehicles with limited production, the military vehicle manufacturer had outsourced its assembly process and had no access to data on the production process. In order to in-source production, the first step was a complete process evaluation to identify every part, process and test required for success. RedViking's project management and process design team created a completely new workflow to improve not only the quantity of vehicles produced, but the quality as well.
All material handling, manpower requirements, feeder systems, part presentation and tooling were evaluated and incorporated into a new design to maximize the benefits of automation and improved information systems. In addition, the new line was designed to be flexible enough to produce multiple vehicle variants without retooling.
The next step was to design and build the automated assembly systems that would increase capacity by 400 percent. Through a unique conveyance design that involved inverting the vehicle at key points during the production cycle, the RedViking team was able to improve access to the vehicle, allowing more processes to occur simultaneously from multiple access points above, alongside and below the vehicle.
Production increased dramatically—from a single vehicle in a single station during an eight-hour shift to a new vehicle rolling off a 12-station line every 45 minutes.
RedViking's manufacturing execution system team was vital to ensuring that quality of the new vehicles was as high as possible. Automated work instructions converted the knowledge of a few experts into information available for every production worker.
Factory information systems provided line-side and management-level data to make sure production goals were met. No one on the team ever forgot that lives were at stake; quality was critically important.
The Pentagon estimated that troops in MRAPs were 17 times more likely to survive buried bombs in MRAPs than they were in Humvees. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “Another value not to be underestimated is the impact on the morale of the troops, not only in knowing they can survive these attacks, but that the folks back home are willing to do whatever it takes to protect them.
>> Rod Emery, email@example.com is vice president at RedViking, a Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) member. The company continues to support the MRAP manufacturing facility with training and maintenance.