How Your Plant Can Benefit From a Spida Extruder Wall Panel Framing Line

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Issue #11239 - June 2019 | Page #14
By Chris Scott

Powered by people, a manual line in an average component plant is composed of a rough opening station, a subcomponent station, a framing station, a squaring station, and a sheathing station. In the configuration, typically 8 people are on this line, and 1000 LNFT of output is the average goal per shift depending on the type of construction. So, how does the Spida extruder style wall framing line compare to this?

We’re always asked for specific details on exactly how a plant can benefit from an Extruder wall panel framing line, so let’s break it down. Here are the pros and cons, metrics, and ROI as we see it.

Station By Station: Set-Up and Labor

Station 1: Rough Openings (ROs)—Windows and Doors

Let’s compare the extruder to the manual line station by station. I have seen a lot of different set-ups for RO (rough openings), some people build ahead and stage the opening in a rack, some do JIT (just in time). I prefer the JIT approach as to having to stage ROs in line. Also, it’s not a true JIT as you will remain ahead by a few rough openings depending on how long your RO infeed conveyor is. The less you handle a product, the better. We will assume that both framing lines use 1 person on this station. On a manual table, getting the RO onto the table almost always involves manual labor and at least 2 people for larger openings. On the extruder line, the rough opening travels down a powered conveyor onto powered rollers and the extruder operator can enter them into the extruder by himself.

Station 2: Subcomponents—Corners, Ls, Cs, Ladders, etc.

The subcomponent station for both lines will only use 1 person. Some CMs prefer to stock similar subcomponents for a project and have them staged in line. This is usually a station close to but not connected to the framing line. The operator builds the subcomponents, manually stages them, and then the framers manually grab and place them as needed. They are being manually moved twice. The extruder line has this station attached—once the subcomponent is built, it is placed onto the subcomponent/stud conveyor and carried in order of installation to the operations overhead. This set-up saves having to manually move them twice AND delivers them in perfect order so there is no looking for parts and pieces.

Station 3: Extruder/Framing Tables

The Spida extruder is where you see the most impact. On average, a manual line has 2–3 guys on exterior walls and 2 on interior walls; on the extruder line, it is 1 regardless of difficulty. Most clients have multiple operators trained and rotating on the machine. The ROs come in on the side and get delivered by a powered conveyor and pop up rollers. The studs, preinstalled blocks, and subcomponents are delivered on an overhead conveyor to the operator. The plates are stored directly behind the operator, typically still on carts.

Stations 4 & 5: Squaring/Tacking and Sheathing

The extruder outfeed and conveyors become important as a buffer for the tacking and sheathing stations. On a manual line, you usually have 2 tackers and 1 sheathing operator for a total of 8 guys on the entire line. On the Spida extruder line, the sheathing station is fully automatic—the operator can walk back and forth and help on the tacking station. If we assume 1 more person as a stacker/floater, then that’s 6 people for the Spida line.

Labor Breakdown

Even if your manual operation is running as lean as possible, you can easily save 2–3 people on the Spida line. The numbers are even higher in the average case.

Station

Manual Line

Extruder Line

Rough Openings (RO)

1–2

1

Subcomponents

1

1

Extruder/Framing Table

2–3

1

Squaring/Tacking

1–2

1–2

Sheathing

1–2

1

Total Labor

710

56

What’s more, in my experience, I’ve seen shops struggle to have lean lines with few people, so they’ll run the line with more—and that means the potential to save increases in those cases.

Extruder Benefits

Some might argue that saving 2–3 people, or even only 1 person, on the line isn’t enough to justify the cost of an extruder line. But, there are more key factors that may be harder to quantify but are extremely important when considering the benefits of an extruder line.

Output

On average, we see up to 1100 LNFT in a shift for exterior walls. For straight interior walls, we have seen up to 1500 LNFT in a shift. This is a mix of residential, commercial, and multi-family. Because all studs, subcomponents, plates, and ROs are delivered to the operator prebuilt and in order, the complexity of the job has little effect on the average output. In contrast, the complexity of the job with a manual set-up has extreme effects on the output of the line.

Safety

With more automation, the safety risks to workers go down. The reduced use of manual framing guns minimizes those risks on the line. The reduced lifting of ROs, subcomponents, and studs lessens the risks of those work-related injuries too.

Quality

The quality improves and becomes much more standardized as framing issues, such as nails sticking out (shiners), are greatly reduced to a very small percentage. Moreover, given the challenge of hiring skilled labor now, just think about how much easier it would be to hire someone and train them on the extruder line rather than to become a manual framer. Likewise, young people will be more attracted to a job that allows them to operate machinery driven with a touch screen instead of predominantly manual labor.

ROI

Now, all of these benefits come together in the ROI (Return On Investment).

At $15/hour, the loaded wage for an employee is around $35,000 annually. And, when it comes to safety, the numbers are eye opening. In 2017, one study states that the average cost per medically- consulted injury was $39,000. On average, the most common injuries in a wood component manufacturing shop are sprains, strains, and nail guns incidents. A system that greatly reduces manual lifting and the use of manual nail guns makes a large impact on your safety costs in a given year.

Quality issues are always a problem—some companies acquire backcharges, some do their own repairs, and some do both—so eliminating these charges can add up quickly. From a wall panel standpoint, the big issues are nail “shiners,” bad lumber/studs, out of square walls, or sloppy framing. The extruder line limits these by taking as much of the manual process out of the operators’ hands as possible. All walls are squared while the framing nailing occurs, and all nailing is done by the machine (except for toe nailing one side of installed blocks). Studs are pulled and held straight by the machine while sheathing is being nailed on. Not only is the machine providing a greater level of precision, but this also allows the operator to be more focused on the quality as opposed to doing all of the work manually.

When it comes to production numbers, these are a few of the improvements. For some shops, this system will help them dial in their process so they will see an increase in output numbers immediately and the savings will be easy to calculate. Lean manufacturing shops will experience higher quality and more consistent output numbers. Switching between jobs will become more fluid, resulting in production numbers increasing overall. This may also allow you to become more diverse in the jobs you take, because you will have more confidence that it won’t choke your operation.

Yes, I know, we can continue to debate and discuss all of the points outlined above—but that, of course, is the point. From what I’ve seen in action, the benefits of the Spida extruder wall line, combined with a reasonable price, make it at least worth considering if you’re interested in improving any wall panel shop. So, feel free to reach out to me to continue this discussion. I can help you do the research, collect the data, and offer the best solution for your business!

You're reading an article from the June 2019 issue.

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