Product quality. Worker safety. High productivity. These are the hallmarks of the world's leading manufacturer of food store equipment and commercial refrigeration products.
No where are these qualities more evident than at the company's manufacturing world headquarters complex. When that facility needed to expand its production capacity in response to strong sales growth, it turned to Hytrol conveyors-the same conveyors that had already established a solid track record on quality, safety, and reliability at the plant.
This company manufactures the refrigerated food cases found in supermarkets and convenience stores around the world. These cases are available in more than 200 different models.
The new conveyor operation, is similar to the line in place-but with some important enhancements. This system includes a number of features designed specifically for the application. Yet even with these customized features, the system was fully operational in less than eight weeks.
The results have been immediate and dramatic. "We wanted to double our production with the addition of the second line," explains the manufacturing engineer at the facility.
The new installation consists mainly of Hytrol chain-driven and drag chain conveyors utilizing zero-pressure accumulation. The line consists of segments that are capable of being programmed as either a workstation or an accumulation zone. There's also an accumulation, or buffer zone set up between each workstation. "The buffer zone is an important productivity feature. "It allows us to keep the line continually moving."
With the accumulation capability, workers can effectively control the release of cases from one zone to another. Safety controls engineered into tread plates on the conveyor and under the floor mats at each workstation prevent the cases from moving to the next zone if anyone is standing on the plates or mats. This is an extremely important safety feature as workers do much of the assembly work on or next to the conveyors.
In addition to the drag chain accumulating units, the system incorporates gravity conveyors to hold the cases at the beginning and the end of the line. There's also several "application-specific" units. These include an automated pivot car that inducts the cases into the main conveyor line. And special four-strand transfers efficiently move the cases from one segment of the main conveyor line to the next.
Another customized feature is a pneumatic lift table from Hytrol that transfers cases from a conveyor line with a 13-inch clearance to one with an eight-inch clearance. That lower clearance is required for certain assembly tasks that could be performed more safely and comfortably with the lower clearance.
An experienced Hytrol Integration Partner and the Hytrol equipment, did all of the equipment customization at the plant. The firm also designed and installed the system's computer controls. A Windows-based factory system monitor gives supervisors visibility over the entire conveyor line, instantly informing them where any bottlenecks or other problems are occurring.
"It was a complete turnkey operation," sums up the manager of the project.
In addition to improving production capacity by more than 50 percent in a few short weeks, the new conveyor system has delivered a number of other key benefits. Workflow flexibility has improved dramatically thanks to the computer controls and streamlined movement of cases from zone to zone. There's also much more efficient labor utilization. In addition, the operators enjoy a heightened sense of ownership because they now have more control in the assembly process.
"Basically, the system we now have in place is optimum for the types of products we're producing here." And as the learning curve kicks in, he adds, the gains already realized will only increase.
The refrigerated food cases move from the panel accumulation area to the start of the assembly line where they enter a buffer zone. A key feature of the new system, these accumulating buffer zones are set up between each workstation. The result is more efficient workflow and higher productivity. Built-in safety features prevent cases from accidentally moving from one zone to the next. A pneumatic lift table transfers the units from a 13-inch conveyor clearance to an 8-inch clearance for the final assembly tasks. The facility assembles more than 70,000 refrigerated cases a year.