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Flexible conveyor systems part of production arsenal.

In the automotive world, the acceleration of product development in the auto industry is critical, and may very well decide the viability of suppliers. Consider the front end of this work-the design and engineering of productive plant facilities. It is continually improving. Yet sometimes there are major problems getting production equipment into operation efficiently.

One facet of the production line that can present both reconfiguration delays and exorbitant replacement costs is the conveyor system. This is particularly the case with the fixed length metal conveyor, which in recent years has lagged behind in reconfiguration flexibility.

Today, these problems are quite avoidable, thanks to the availability of highly flexible modular conveyor systems.

To some extent, the flexibility of truly modular conveyor systems provides an internal design-build capability: The engineer can adapt the conveyor system to his design requirements. The antiquated options--adapting a production line to make use of existing conveyors or ordering expensive new equipment (and adding to the conveyor bone yard)--are rapidly becoming unacceptable.

"Most of our projects have a three-to-four year lifespan," says Matt Barta, manufacturing engineering manager at the Tucson, AZ, facilities of GW Plastics, a supplier of automotive, healthcare, industrial, and consumer products.

"We have a lot of money invested in our automation cells, so we try to buy equipment that can be reconfigured for other applications. That includes our conveyor systems. Even though the equipment wasn't purchased for a future application, being able to reconfigure it means it won't be pushed into a corner when we retool. It can be redesigned, taken apart, expanded-whatever we need. We can reconfigure them quickly and easily, and that gives us a much higher return on investment."

Just as fabrication equipment becomes progressively more efficient and powerful through integration of robotics and other automated devices, many similar "intelligent" capabilities are being required of conveyor systems.

For example, GW Plastics' Barta has undertaken a major insert injection molding project that requires the development of customized and highly automated molding cells. Three automation cells will ultimately produce 1.7 million plastic fuel pumps annually for a global automaker, beginning with 2007 models.

"There are numerous operations taking place to build the fuel pumps, including plastic and metal components," Barta says. "This requires the integration of several robotics and feeding systems. A modular conveyor system is the final piece of the automation."

Wherever flexibility is a key element of productivity, modular conveyor systems can make a big difference in costs and efficiency compared with fixed conveyors. GW Plastics aims for "minimal manpower" in its plants, particularly in the packaging area. The conveyor system used in Barta's project is the DynaCon modular plastic system manufactured by Dynamic Conveyor Corporation, Muskegon, MI. This line of light- and medium-duty modular conveyors quickly adapts to product changeovers, increases or decreases in production, and line conversions.

Manufacturers with frequently changing production lines find that a truly modular conveyor system can not only help streamline and optimize production, but can also incorporate accessories that enhance quality and provide serviceability that increases uptime while lowering maintenance and replacement costs.

At GW Plastics' San Antonio plant, DynaCon conveyors are saving up to $72,000 in annual labor costs alone because of increased conveying efficiencies. Six box-filling conveyors were installed in 2003 to automate the movement of newly molded seat belt and signal switch assembly components. Boxes load in the center of the conveyor, which can be up to 21 feet long. When a cycle counter determines that the box is full, the conveyor indexes forward one box.

"We used to have an operator move boxes at the press every half hour or so, but now they only have to do that every eight hours," explains John Brandt, production and engineering manager of the San Antonio plant. "That saves us about $6,000 each month in labor costs."

"In Tucson, we do a lot of cells on the conveyor to meet packaging requirements" says Matt Barta. "We do automated packaging, sometimes where products are placed directly on conveyors in divided lanes and boxed-in cells. In one case, we had a vision system hooked up to one cell. We were doing inspections with convex cameras on the conveyors. We also use the reverse-drive capabilities of the DynaCon system in combination with Cognex part-separation technology. If the product is judged to be substandard, the conveyor will revert and the part will be removed to a location for rejects."

The modular design of the DynaCon conveyor system can be configured in many shapes and sizes, enabling companies to standardize a system by simply snapping selected modules in place, much like Lego building blocks. Accessories and replacement parts can be used interchangeably and modules such as S-turns, cooling tunnels, water baths, programmable box filling, and variable-speed drives enables critical control of production flow for manufacturers.

Dynamic Conveyor Corporation, www.rsleads.com/512tp-179
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Title Annotation:news & analysis
Author:Sullivan, Ed
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Words:807
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