Portable Equipment Solves Production Capacity Crisis

Operating a vacuum impregnation process as a flexible asset, ready for use anywhere there is a needs to increase throughput

Industrial metalcasting is in a transitional period, adjusting to various technological and regulatory trends and demand for new commercial products. Metalcasing manufacturers require flexibility from their process equipment in order to account for shorter program life-cycles, while retaining their ability to operate competitively.

For many metalcasters, this requires capital equipment to contribute to production activity across multiple programs.

The market rewards metalcasting companies that are able to identify opportunities to adapt to the changing circumstances. For example, one casting producer found its vacuum impregnation requirements increased suddenly (and unexpectedly) at one location, while at another location it had underutilized impregnation capacity.

This foundry operates multiple locations in the United States and one in Mexico. One of the U.S. plants was operating at maximum capacity, and due to issues beyond its control it saw an increase in castings that failed leak test. This increase pressed the on-site vacuum impregnation capability to full utilization, and more capacity was needed.

The metalcasting group considered three options to create more capacity:

1. Outsourcing casting impregnation. The foundry considered outsourcing its excess requirements to an impregnation service center. After evaluating the logistical costs, and the quality risks associated with two supply lines, outsourcing was ruled out.

2. Investing in new vacuum impregnation capacity. Lead-times made buying a new system unfeasible and the cost would have been prohibitive, especially for what might be a temporary problem.

3. Recommissioning a used batch impregnation system. Purchasing, moving and recommissioning a nearby, used batch impregnation system would not be simple. It would require weeks of planning and infrastructure alterations for equipment pits, platforms, and overhead cranes. That was not an option; a resolution to the capacity issue was needed as soon as possible.

The operation in Mexico had a product-launch delay, meaning idle capacity. Its inactive impregnation system was what was needed in the U.S.  Many of the decisionmakers discounted this option as being too complicated, given the customs requirements, border crossings and transportation details.

But, the company had standardized on the Godfrey & Wing front-loading vacuum impregnation systems. The U.S. plant operated a fully automated, Continuous Flow impregnation (CFi) system and the Mexico plant employed two High Value Low Volume (HVLV) systems. The CFi is a lean, front-loading impregnation system that uses a robot to handle parts and transfers between modules. The HVLV is the same impregnation technology, but uses automated process control and manual material handling.

After initially discounting the idea of moving an HVLV system from Mexico, the customer’s operations team decided it was the best option and quickly started assembling data. They discovered:
•  No infrastructure changes. The HVLV system did not require infrastructure changes.
•  Modular footprint. Occupying 96 sq.ft., the HVLV system was easily transportable and did not require riggers or special handling equipment.
•  No interconnecting wires. It would be a fast decommission and a “plug and play” installation. No interconnecting wires would need to be removed or reinstalled. Single-point connections for electricity, water, and air were standard on the HVLV.
•  Easy customer approval. Customer approvals would be easy, as the HVLV uses the same impregnation process as the CFI.
•  No quality issues. Nor was process quality a concern, as the CFi and HVLV have identical wash and cure stations.

The team concluded that shipping the idle vacuum impregnation system from Mexico was the best solution to its process capacity problem. Within three hours on a Friday morning, the HVLV was decommissioned and placed on a truck for the 1,700-mile trip.  It arrived at the U.S. destination on Monday, qualified on Tuesday, and was sealing parts on Wednesday.

The results data clearly show that transporting the HVLV achieved the company’s capacity goals. The results included:

Increased throughput. Operating the HVLV along with the CFi increased throughput by 40%, easily accommodating the spike in impregnation throughput requirements.

Minimal installation and shipping costs. The HVLV was transported and installed for $11,000. This represented less than one week of freight costs if the parts had been outsourced.

Piece cost. The HVLV system was the least expensive option of the three considered.

It is projected to operate at the U.S. foundry for six months, and then it will be returned to Mexico and reinstalled there for the launch of a new casting program.

Godfrey & Wing’s HVLV is the only system that can meet these demands so easily. The foundry discovered the value of operating its vacuum impregnation equipment as a flexible, portable system. And now it considers the HVLV as a part of its infrastructure, not tied to a specific program. It can be assigned to any location that needs to increase throughput.
Andy Marin is the marketing coordinator for Godfrey & Wing, a developer of vacuum impregnation technology. Contact him at [email protected]

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