In manufacturing environments where multiple product types are produced and packaged, flexibility is critical. Injection molders like GW Plastics have found that modular conveyors can make a big difference in costs and efficiency compared to fixed conveyor systems. A leading supplier of precision injection-molded plastic products to the automotive, healthcare and consumer/industrial markets, GW Plastics is setting goals to reduce labor costs in its manufacturing plants, particularly in the packaging area. Modular conveying systems are bringing it closer to that goal and, in the process, are increasing production efficiency.GW Plastics uses modular conveying systems to adapt plant space to different product applications.
The GW Plastics' plant in San Antonio, TX, installed six Dynamic Dyna-Con box-filling conveyors from Dynamic Conveyor Corp. in the spring of 2002 and has now completely automated the filling process of plastic, injection-molded seat-belt and turn-signal switch components. The plastic seat-belt component is continuously manufactured at this plant and has a dedicated packaging/conveyor line. For this line, the new Dyna-Con conveyors can extend to 21 ft, and are equipped with Intralox modular plastic Flat Top belts and flights. The complete conveyor line installation is saving up to $72,000 in annual labor costs alone due to increased conveying efficiencies.
Once the automotive components are manufactured in a separate area, a high-volume pick-and-place robotic arm deposits the components into an empty, manually erected corrugated case located at the filling station. The filling station is positioned in the middle of the conveyor, and the robotic arm sends a signal to the conveyor cycle counter once the case is filled.
Then, the conveyor indexes a filled case forward, out of the loading-cell area, and a new empty case moves forward to the filling area. Once or twice a shift, an operator removes full cases downstream and loads empty cases at the back end of the conveyor. "We used to have an operator move cases every half hour or so, but now they only have to come over once every eight hours," says John Brandt, production and engineering manager of GW Plastics' San Antonio plant. "That saves us about $6,000 a month in labor costs."
Conveyor versatility is critical for GW Plastics. The company serves the healthcare, consumer and industrial industries, and injection-molded products evolve as consumer preferences change. "Typically, our customers will redesign their products every three to five years," Brandt says. "If we use fixed conveyors, we have to scrap the whole conveyor and start over when that happens. Using modular conveyors makes the updates less complicated and more cost-effective."
The San Antonio plant also changed conveyor configurations on several case-filling lines to minimize potential downtime. However, the holding cells on the case-filling conveyor belts were too spacious to position the new cases properly at the filling stations.
"To reconfigure the holding cells on our old steel conveyors, we would have had to replace each system at about $1,000 apiece," Brandt says. "Instead, with the modular plastic belts, we were able to use existing belt pieces and simply change the spacing between the belt flights in one afternoon. An operator can pull out the belt rods and flights, put in some more belt modules, and move the flights to a different location on the belt."An operator adjusts the modular flights and belt rods on the flat-top belt to increase space for the individual loading cells that hold the corrugated cases.
Intralox belt innovations have helped Dynamic Conveyor expand its product line, PD is told. Engineering/R&D manager at Dynamic Conveyor Corp., Paul Kuharevicz, says, "Previously, we made our own link belt, in just one style, but design difficulties limited the belts–and, therefore, the conveyors–to a maximum width of twenty-four inches. With Intralox, we can build conveyors sixty inches wide or wider, depending on the application. Dynamic can now offer a full range of belt styles for inclines, turns, drainage applications, and so on. It just exploded what we could offer."
GW Plastics saw the flexibility that these conveyors offered and turned to an experienced supplier, PD is told. Kuharevicz says, "We have customers who have purchased a thirty-foot-long conveyor, used it for the duration of that job or application, then divided it up into three, ten-foot-conveyors to use in other parts of the line. That can only happen with a conveyor that is equipped with a belt that grows and shrinks. We help plants increase efficiencies and control their capital investment costs."
Currently, all four of GW Plastics U.S. plants are standardizing on Dyna-Con Box filling and incline conveyors, and Brandt is looking forward to more projects. "Right now, we take cases off the conveyors and put them on a pallet to move them. As we phase in our reduced cost strategy, we may move to larger conveyor systems, to move all the product to a central location," he says.
More information is available:
Conveyor systems: Dynamic Conveyor Corp., 800/640-6850. Circle No. 201.
Conveyor belts, flights: Intralox, Inc., 300/535-8848. Circle No. 202.