October 31, 2006 -- Superior Industries contracted Consolidated Engineering Corp. to integrate the low-pressure, permanent-mold casting operations with the machining equipment at Superior's automotive wheel plant in Chihuahua, Mexico by installing an integrated, T-6 heat-treating operation between the two areas.
Superior is one of the world's largest producers of aluminum automotive wheels.
This project will feature CEC's new CleanCast heat-treating technology, which uses low volumes of high-pressure heated air to rapidly heat-treat and/or thermally de-core castings. The concept uses air nozzles arranged closely to impinge on the subject parts, and it handles parts directly with robotic systems on entry and exit from the furnace system -- no baskets or trays. CEC explains these details lower capital costs, simplify cellular process arrangements, reduce operating costs, and lead to various process benefits. Among these, CEC lists rapid de-coring capability, heat-treating process consistency, short cycle heat-treatment, flexible plant arrangements and, reduced process inventories, among others.
CEC and Superior designed an integrated system that eliminates most of the labor and energy costs by using automation to load wheels directly from the casting machines into the soluton furnaces. Vision systems identify the castings and direct them into the proper furnace for the designated heat treatment. Rack systems are entirely eliminated. Parallel chains convey the castings through the furnace, so Superior can quench eight castings at a time and in the “normal to the road” position, for exceptional distortion control in both roundness and flatness.
Superior's CleanCast installation will be capable of heat-treating 600 castings per hour. In its proposal, CEC used CFD modeling to demonstrate CleanCast's ability to heat castings and return them accurately to the set-point thus requiring less time in solution. Following heat treatment, the castings will be directed automatically to the inspection and machining area without operator involvement or racking.
This installation will be the latest effort for CEC at Superior's plant in Chihuahua. In April 2005, CEC supplied and automated three furnaces and one aging oven adjacent to the casting decks. CEC's performance on the first phase of the project drew praise from Superior, leading to the latest contract.