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Modular conveyors prove handy in a transitioning market

If you cannot handle change, you probably don’t have business serving the automotive industry, where constant change is par for the course. The same can be said for processors’ kit: equipment needs to be just as flexible as the processors who use it.

MPW Staff

February 3, 2009

3 Min Read
Modular conveyors prove handy in a transitioning market

With building-block versatility, modular conveyor systems are one of the productivity improvement tools that complement the Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement.   “Modular conveyors give us unlimited opportunities and keep us from having obsolete equipment with fixed length conveyors,” says J. C. Noll, senior production engineer at North American Lighting Inc.’s (NAL) Flora, IL facility.  “Fixed conveyors just back you into a corner.  If you want to improve a process or work on some Kaizen activity you are somewhat strapped to the fixed length conveyor’s length unless you want to go through the pain of cutting it down and then getting a new belt configured for that.”

NAL injection molds and assembles lighting products for vehicle manufacturers including Toyota, GM, Honda, Nissan and Subaru, with the Flora site housing 28 molding machines used to manufacture headlamps, fog lamps and auxiliary combination systems.

NAL’s manufacturing process is based on the Koito Production System (KPS), which is designed to ensure costs are closely controlled; inventories are held to a minimum, engineering changes are implemented quickly, and deliveries are on time. Installing modular conveyor systems provided the molder with a lower total cost of ownership savings in areas including energy savings, reduced maintenance costs, shipping, installation, and most notably in reconfiguration. “If we purchased five new conveyors which were all fixed length, and a year and a half from now we wanted to make some other improvement, those conveyors might not have an application at that point, and they would become obsolete or idle equipment and then force additional expenditure,” explains Noll. 

NAL tasked Dynamic Conveyor (Muskegon, MI) to help with its modular conveyance tasks. “With the DynaCon modular conveyor, if we want to make a change to this layout, we buy three additional modules and expand the conveyors three feet, because now we can make it work,” he says. The modular conveyor systems from this manufacturer can be reconfigured by removing, inserting or exchanging modules that are available in lengths as short as 6 inches. NAL uses its conveyors to move product from its molding machines, where the product is robotically placed on a conveyor, to an operator for inspection and packaging, or conveyed to another area for a secondary application.  “The flexibility of being able to change work cell layouts is the bonus,” Noll says. “With the modular system you can add or subtract modules to reconfigure based on Kaizen activity when making productivity improvements or streamlining operator utilization.” 

The use of modular conveyor systems also eliminates the need for transition points.  If a curved application is necessary, the curved module is one piece from start to end with a modular system, whereas, a fixed length conveyor may take three pieces with a transition point. “Based on the cosmetic requirements of our product, a fixed conveyor might increase our defect ratio. So the capability of doing a curve within the same conveyor adds a lot of flexibility for us,” says Noll.  

Another advantage of the modularity of the system, according to Noll, is the ability to share equipment between the facilities. The Flora, IL facility was the first to employ the DynaCon system, but over the past six years, in addition to expanding the number of conveyors in that facility, some of NAL’s other facilities have implemented the modular conveyor system. “We have a sister forward lighting plant in Paris, and rear lighting in Salem as well as our new plant in Alabama. We can share that equipment between the plants and it makes it much better for us,” Noll says. 

An animation that demonstrates the reconfiguring of such a conveyor system can be viewed here (Windows only).—[email protected]

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