Ed Brown, CEO & Head of Research and Development
October 7, 1913, Highland Park Ford Plant: Amidst a hive of activity, 140 assemblers stationed along the rudimentary moving assembly line installed parts on the chassis while a winch dragged it across the floor. An endless contraption of chains, links, and gravity slides deftly moved the parts. That was Ford Model T, and history in the making.
As the drive to optimize continues, in lockstep with time, the classic assembly line has given way to new techniques and styles with innovative developments in material handling systems. Numerous state-of-the-art material handling systems have made their entry, but decisive factors such as safety, ergonomics, efficiency, and performance are key for manufacturers to attain a leap in productivity and efficiency. In addition to these vital requisites, manufacturers that are on a quest to push the frontiers of manufacturing have to take note of a critical difference. It is one thing to partner with a material handling company that manufactures one or two components of the assembly line, and it is quite another to collaborate with a company whose prowess extends across the whole gamut of the assembly line.
Partnering with Wisconsin-based Topper Industrial can bring a world of difference.
Topper delivers innovative industrial cart delivery systems that enable efficient line side material handling. “We design, build, and deliver every single component in terms of material handling needed for an assembly line. And every component is manufactured right in our facility,” says Ed Brown, CEO and head of research and development, Topper Industrial, with a touch of pride.
Topper’s product range is exhaustive and comprises mother-daughter carts, tilt carts, quad steer carts, and rotate carts, among others. In addition to various types of custom-built industrial cart systems, their product roster also features conveyors, lifts and tilts, shipping racks, containers, gravity flow racks, casters, and cart components. With a greater emphasis on design, Topper’s cart systems tick all the boxes: safety, flexibility, efficiency, productivity, and cost-effectiveness.
Brown reiterates the reason for the company manufacturing everything in-house. First off, it enables them to have a check on quality parameters followed by control on delivery timelines and cost. He recalls earlier instances when the quality of the lifts and other components built by their partners took a beating. Adding to the woes, when a customer bought carts from Topper, and conveyors from another company, problems surfaced in integration and the systems had to be modified. “We decided to offer a turnkey solution, which is tested to ensure that all the various components are integrated and work perfectly before it is shipped,” says Brown. “Our customers can resolve their toughest challenges in terms of unique designs and integration from a single provider.”
The Human Factor and Ergonomics
Topper did not become the one-stop shop for material handling overnight. Over the course of the two decades of designing, building, and installing material handling equipment, the family-owned company has always encouraged creativity in problem-solving and leveraged lean manufacturing concepts to achieve the optimal design and quality while reducing the cost. “Lean cart delivery is the foundation of a lean manufacturing system in terms of continuous improvement and reducing costs while upholding safety, which is paramount,” says Brown.
We not only provide a great solution, but one that pays for itself, and in a year
The Topper team has always endeavored to reduce human effort and improve safety in material handling. As per Brown, 99 percent of cart delivery systems require a person to push the cart at some point, and it becomes a big challenge in the case of heavier loads. The carts have to be designed in such a way that a person should not only be able to push it easily even with heavy loads but also stop it with ease.
To address this critical requirement, Topper designs and builds carts as light as possible. They are manufactured of high strength steel and robotically welded. Moreover, given the vital role castors play in making a cart roll easily, Topper procures castors of the highest quality from Blickle, the leading German manufacturer of wheels and castors. “Our carts are ergonomically designed to enhance operator comfort, which makes their jobs easier and safer,” states Brown.
Recently, Topper had to build a cart delivery system that can handle valves weighing as much as 40,000 pounds for a Texas-based client. Even as Brown points to weight as their biggest challenge with size coming a close second, the Topper team proved otherwise. After several days of hard work, Topper’s team of experts decoded the intricacies in building such high-load capacity carts while ensuring safety as well as durability. The client was happy and deeply appreciative of the incredible work. Showcasing their prowess is yet another instance where Topper delivered carts of large capacity to handle rocket boosters for the California-based aerospace manufacturer, which designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.
Tools of the Trade
Making it all possible is their talented team with a solid background in engineering, and an equal measure of creativity and dedication blended in. The company’s numerous patents only highlight their technical mastery. Alongside, underpinning their product excellence is their state-of-the-art shop floor, which boasts of the latest in computer-controlled equipment that includes lasers, plasma cutters, press brakes, robotic welders, and bandsaws. The company recently added a powder paint system to their equipment portfolio. “The modernization along the lines of industry 4.0 has resulted in top-notch products that are very efficient, delivered on time, yet at the lowest possible price,” explains Brown.
It goes without saying that testing is imperative for quality assurance. Every cart, conveyor, or lift table passes through a stringent quality control system in the plant. “When you deliver a product that is pushed by a human being, it has to be thoroughly tested,” states Brown. During the design stage, the company’s skilled designers and engineers proactively identify all the possible failures of a product through failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA).
In the manufacturing stage, the first cart that is manufactured is thoroughly tested prior to painting to make sure that the quality and the customer specifications are strictly adhered to. Depending on the quantity, additional carts are randomly selected, and these undergo a quality analysis before they are marked as ready to be shipped.
Topper’s recipe to build a world-class product is anchored by the fact that they tailor cart systems according to customer specifications. For example, even if two customers are manufacturing the same product, their manufacturing methods and procedures may vary vastly. Topper takes into consideration numerous parameters such as the width of aisles, the type, weight, and distance the product has to be moved to design the optimal solution. The team also works with their clients to chalk out the optimal routes.
Efficiency and Profitability Team Up!
Today, a multitude of industries spanning automotive, agriculture, medical, and aerospace benefit from Topper’s efficient material handling solutions. Brown proudly recalls their successful engagement with an LED manufacturer. Prior to Topper stepping into the picture, they had 30 material handlers on three shifts, which totaled to 90. The installation of Topper’s cart delivery system brought down the number to 13 people per shift while also eliminating 17 forklift trucks from each of the three work shifts.
"Our carts are ergonomically designed to enhance operator comfort, which makes their jobs easier and safer"
As per market estimates, the material handling labor savings are anywhere between 30 and 50 percent for personnel. Brown also draws attention to how the vast majority of customers favor the elimination of forklifts, which are unsafe as statistics reveal numerous fatalities every year. Being forklift-free proves to be advantageous in terms of space utilization, cost-effective asset management, and higher productivity. The scales definitely tip toward cart delivery systems as they are safer, cheaper, and flexible. “We not only provide a great solution, but one that pays for itself, and in a year,” remarks Brown. What’s more, the company offers a five-year warranty for their carts as well as the casters.
The success story penned by Topper is soon to add another incredible chapter. As the new decade beckons, the company has drawn an ambitious plan to build a new factory on 30 acres of land. Their think tanks are also gearing up to roll out a brand-new mother cart system at the upcoming MODEX 2020, in Atlanta, a leading trade show for supply chain, manufacturing, and distribution industries. As they continue their innovation spree, Brown reflects on their decision to diversify from their strong foothold in the automotive sector to cover the entire gamut of all industries in the U.S.
While the company races against time to fulfill their long pipeline of orders, this quote from Henry David Thoreau beautifully sums up the sentiment at the Topper camp—“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”