Conveying Production Agility

An agile production line is vital to many manufacturers today. Many auto parts companies use dedicated production lines for continuous runs of components and assemblies. Sometimes, however, the ability to quickly reconfigure, fine tune and service such equipment — including conveyor systems — is a must.

“You’ve got to be fast on your feet,” says Bruce Wakefield, manufacturing engineer for Mann+Hummel, South Bend, Indiana.

The plant develops and produces injection-molded plastic manifolds for the international automobile industry. This Tier One producer supplies air and liquid filters, intake manifold modules and liquid management systems. It produces three-part manifolds for four-cylinder General Motors engines, and a four-part assembly for eight-cylinder Chrysler engines.

As with typical auto parts facilities, the manifold plant requires a high degree of efficiency and a certain amount of flexibility.

The production lines include conveyors that feed three 1,750-ton presses located in three cells. Work in process goes from the presses to a collect chute, where operators put parts in totes that continue on to workstations where automatic welding takes place.

The original conveyor system installed when the plant was built in 1989 was a typical fixed steel design, with runs varying up to 80 feet. Although the conveyors performed reliably, there were circumstances when a reconfiguration would have helped production flow. When manifold designs changed, the molding cells needed to be reconfigured, and in some instances this meant ordering new conveyors and awaiting delivery.

In early 2000, managers replaced the conventional steel conveyors on a secondary line with a DynaCon modular plastic conveyor system made by Dynamic Conveyor Corporation, Muskegon, Michigan. These medium-duty application conveyors have frequently operated in the injection molding industry.

The trial system proved to be reliable and offered flexibility with a range of module designs. So, management applied the system to the line feeding one of its primary manifold molding cells.

“We had a tight arrangement in one cell, and the DynaCon system made it easier to bring the parts in on the conveyor,” says Wakefield. “We put an angle on the end of the conveyor to be more ergonomic with the positioning of the parts to the operator. With the flexibility of the conveyor we were able to try a 30-degree or 45-degree angle to it as we were laying out the cell on paper. It gave us a lot of flexibility in our floor plan layout. Plus, the system gives us versatility to later move some gear, reconfigure the cell, add a piece of equipment or take one out. And it’s easy to reconfigure, a big advantage with automotive programs that have a definite life. Your cell is eventually going to be obsolete.”

Standard DynaCon conveyor system modules include drive flights, side guards, retaining walls, legs and connectors. Accessories, such as cooling tunnels, separators, and water bath tanks are also available, as is a radius turn conveyor that flows on an incline or decline.

Whether doing a complete reconfiguration or simply tweaking the system, Wakefield is confident he can handle the task without vendor assistance. On one line his group developed a proprietary system to cool the manifolds as they left the presses. Cooling tunnel modules are available from Dynamic Conveyor, however, engineers decided to use the threaded recesses on the conveyor side guards (normally used to connect flange kits) to mount fans that cool the plastic parts as they travel on the conveyor.

While the manifold plant still has dedicated fixed conveyors in use, most will ultimately be replaced with DynaCon systems.

Dynamic Conveyor Corp.; dynamicconveyor.com, 866-249-2641.

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