It’s a rare thing to be excited by the prospect…
The Kingspan Group has a proven track record of long term investing, recently seen at our state of the art facility in Portadown, widely acknowledged as the most advanced solar thermal manufacturing site in Europe. This is now followed by major changes at the hot water cylinder factory in Wakefield, with a planned investment in manufacturing capabilities in excess of £500,000 reflecting our ambition in the hot water storage category.
Throughout our investment programme, quality and process improvement are the two key priorities guiding every operational change, always combined with the upskilling of operatives and improved working environment. Following a full review of the production line with in-depth analysis of performance measurements, a number of critical production stages and procedures were identified for an upgrade, with the objective of boosting production capacity and increasing manufacturing flexibility, whilst improving the working environment and the quality of the end product.
New machinery and equipment, often re-sited to make the factory layout more coherent, now allow ‘just in time’ demand based production methods to be implemented. For example, one of the biggest improvements comes from the introduction of new welding robots that have increased our production capacity by over 30%, as well as improved the weld quality and consistency. Unlike other cylinder manufacturers that use MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding robots, we have invested in the more advanced TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welders to provide an intrinsically superior weld quality.
Relocating the tacking station adjacent to the robots has meant a significant manual handling reduction, which is a major theme running throughout the factory upgrade and has received unqualified support from all employees. The installation of new conveyors to transport cylinders around the factory improves the health and safety for a as well as the work flow, which puts the company consistently at high supply readiness. Where manual handling is still required, air suction lifting apparatus now takes the weight of the cylinder, as they are guided from the conveyors across to each production department.
Specific production stages have also been significantly improved. A threefold expansion of the pressure testing bay area has removed a bottleneck caused by the stringent testing of every single cylinder that leaves the factory gates and has helped to refine testing protocols.
One of the key stages in the production of a cylinders is the pickling process, essential to protect the inner vessel from corrosion and remain water tight throughout the product life span. With the importance of this stage in mind Kingspan have completely renewed the pickling department, installing two new automated pickling machines. These have resulted in a 20% increase in the rate that cylinders can be moved through the department as well as ensuring a more thorough cleaning is achieved, and delivered huge improvements in the working environment for the operators, doing away with a lot of hot and heavy protective clothing.
Another major manufacturing change has been the move to pre-coated enamel sheets. Time saving achieved at the enamelling stage helps us cope with the higher factory through put, while achieving a more consistent finish and reduced energy consumption helping us achieve our net zero target.