Unex and the Lean Lab

The United States, along with the rest of the industrialized world, is facing a workforce crisis. While our citizens are more educated than they have ever been, multiple industries suffer a similar epidemic- there are simply not enough qualified candidates to fill all the vacancies within that industry. The material handling industry is not immune to this disconcerting trend.

I consider myself to be a case study in this issue. Having a Bachelor’s Degree does not qualify me for any job I want to apply to. Despite what my parents told me, the world does not open up like a book once you get an education. Although my head may be full of theories or concepts, I live and work in a very physical industry where experience and know-how reign supreme. Theories in your head only go so far- in the world of material handling, you must be able to walk the walk. While I certainly learned quite a bit in college, I was unsuccessful in developing the practical skills required to be considered a skilled worker in the material handling industry.

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The Rochester Institute of Technology sought to remedy these issues when they opened the Toyota Production Systems lab in 2006. The goal of this facility is to provide students with a hands-on education in state-of-the-art production systems. By studying the behavior of production lines, students in the Production Systems lab hope to develop problem solving strategies and improvement processes for industries related to Industrial Engineering.

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Unex was eager to play a part in RIT’s program development. We supplied the Production Systems lab- also known amongst its users as the “lean lab” – with two Flow Cell units. These units were outfitted with multiple lanes of Span-Track, as well as tilted pick trays. These units were ideal in recreating an assembly-based production line for the lean lab’s students. Unex also donated approximately 35 feet of gravity conveyor to complement the Flow Cell units. These items helped to successfully develop a lean space for students to study and implement sound production practices.

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The lean lab does not only cater to Industrial Engineering students at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The facility is designed to engage participants at various levels of education. The lean lab has been used students of all ages- from K-12 students to graduate students. The National Institute for the Deaf even offers programs that utilize RIT’s lean lab. In an average year, hundreds of students gain valuable knowledge through the lean lab’s program, and even more visitors tour the lab to learn more about RIT’s instructional techniques, laboratory setup, and the exercises they employ.

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Unex is proud to play a part in educating the future of the material handling industry. Through instruction and using our equipment, students that work in RIT’s lean lab are far better prepared to work with and understand the real world equipment on which our industry is based. Our hope is that our collaborative efforts with the Rochester Institute of Technology can slowly but surely fill the skills gap that is present within the material handling industry.