Clayton Homes took students’ advice, and it works

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students created a “living laboratory” inside a Clayton Homes plant — and their findings are helping create a better workplace for employees.

The project, a collaboration between Clayton and UT’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, looked for ways to make Clayton Homes’ Rutledge facility more effective by using robotics for construction, ultimately reducing the cost of building a home. The group from UT studied the way employees worked, then offered suggestions for improving workflow at the facility.

As it turns out, the suggestions worked. The ideas from students and researchers have improved the productivity and retention at Clayton Rutledge since the study began.

“Our country is experiencing a widespread need for quality, affordable housing solutions,” said Rick Boyd, president of Clayton Manufacturing. “At the same time, we are continuously researching ways to reduce labor stress for our valued team members.

“Automating processes and integrating robotics in our current production not only lessens the physical burden, but also enhances safety and improves efficiency. By testing and incorporating the latest available technology into our construction processes, we hope to deliver innovative and attainable solutions to more homebuyers.”

The study was led by Rapinder Sawhney, a health fellow in Business and Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a group of his industrial and systems engineering students.

The project began in early 2018 at Clayton Rutledge with employees wearing Fitbit devices and students studying video from cameras placed around the facility, Sawhney said. That data was analyzed to look at tasks employees perform throughout the day and see which activities were useful and which could be improved.

From there, the group looked at how Clayton Homes designed systems that allowed them to operate, and figured out ways to make employees more productive while decreasing workplace stress.

“We believe that a company can be productive, but at the same time when you are becoming productive, enhance the quality of life of people,” Sawhney said. After analyzing data provided by Clayton Homes, as well as the information gathered from the Fitbit devices and videos, the UT group was able to make recommendations to increase productivity. Among those recommendations were creating teams of employees and coordinating their work, as well as ensuring the materials that came into the warehouse were “kitted.”

The kitting process bundles materials together and delivers them when needed to employees. These steps ensured “people would have an easier time understanding what to do next,” Sawhney said. After implementing the recommendations from UT, Clayton Rutledge has been able to increase productivity and employee retention, Sawhney said. The number of houses built at the location has increased, and there’s potential for additional improvements, he said. Employee retention has increased at the plant, he said. Part of this comes from employees being able to reduce the amount of physical effort they use while working, thanks to the integration of robotics.

“Not only were we able to create an algorithm and methodology unique to Clayton and the manufacturing industry that’s never been done before, that research is now expanding,” Sawhney said. “Several of our staff and students have subsequently developed and published major reports and studies.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel

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Published July 1, 2020