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issue: July 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Metal Working
Warming Up to Automation Advantages

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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor

For Canadian manufacturer Aero Heat Exchanger, Inc., switching to an automated fabrication system has changed a multi-stage process spread over a large floor area into a compact, often all-inclusive process.

According to the manufacturer, benefits of the automation upgrade have been significant and continue to accrue. These include scrap reduction, more accurate parts in less time, less material handling, and the elimination of secondary operations performed later in the production process.

Aero Heat Exchanger, located in Richmond, British Columbia, is a designer and manufacturer of specialized refrigeration equipment and systems for the food processing industry. Founded in 1979, it has become a major supplier of refrigeration coils and Individual Quick Frozen (IQF) freezing systems, including freezing tunnels, blast freezers, food processing plants, and cold storage warehouses.

As part of a policy of continually upgrading its facilities and equipment, it began a search for a replacement for two mechanical turret punch presses. After a thorough examination of available equipment, it selected the Shear Genius (SG) 6.4 Flexible Manufacturing Cell (FMC) from Finn-Power International, Inc. (Schaumburg, IL, U.S.). It was chosen, says Steven So, Aero Heat’s purchasing manager, “Because it was the best value for the money with all its features, functions, and options.”

The machine was installed in August 2001 and works with sheets, usually stainless steel, up to 60- by 160-in by 10 gauge. It includes automatic loading, punching, shearing, and unloading in just 30 ft of floor space.

Programming software and queuing software can be accessed at the machine. “The programmers use the CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) software, which has a very user-friendly graphical interface,” says Kwok Hung Chau, an operator at Aero Heat Exchanger. “It is simple to use and seamlessly supports all the special tool functions. These include individually specified ram speeds and table accelerations by tool, upforming, wheel technology tools, complex nesting with common line cutting for the right-angle shear, along with automatically setting material thickness of the right-angle shear blade gap. This is very important for stainless steel. We have a yearly software maintenance and support agreement with Finn-Power to continuously upgrade as new features and functions are added to the software.”

One key benefit of the system has been material savings of 15 to 20 percent, which is crucial since the manufacturer uses a lot of 12-gauge stainless steel in its product design, reports Mr. Hung. He explains that the savings are achieved by common line cutting or zero clearance nesting. “Before the SG, all parts would have to be spaced a minimum of 0.25-in apart to allow for our parting tools,” Mr. Hung says. “The previous methods did not allow for individual clamp moves either. This meant that we were not able to effectively utilize all the sheet, depending on part sizes. The SG allows for trimming of three sides of the sheet using a combination of the shear and punches and the third clamp movement feature, combined with reposition, allowing close to 100-percent sheet utilization. The bottom of the sheet is left with the mill edge.”

Another key advantage has been the use of wheel technology. Prior to the SG machine, the company had to weld 3/16-in stiffeners to the floors and walls of the freezer units. These can be up to 300-ft long and 30-ft wide and 10-ft high. This was a time-consuming and costly secondary operation.

“The wheel technology allows us to draw the stiffening form into the material as part of the panel fabrication process,” explains Mr. Hung. “The process utilizes the full tonnage capability of the auto-index station, along with the fully digital servo hydraulic ram control, allowing precise height adjustment in materials up to 14-gauge stainless steel. All this is easily accomplished in our CAM software, allowing the programmer to specify wheel speeds, table acceleration, and form height on various shapes, both simple and complex.”

In addition to stiffening parts, the company uses the technology to draw Aero Heat logos on parts. This was something that previously required a secondary operation with a separate nameplate.

Because of the need to load and unload the large sheet sizes, the company has two people running and maintaining the machine during two shifts. “While we can operate ‘lights out’ utilizing the loader, we choose not to. This is because every panel we make is custom in size, so we must have continuous inspection to meet quality requirements,” observes Mr. Hung. “This is particularly important when dealing with stainless steel, which is 90 percent of our production.

“We have a standard turret setup due to the high tool capacity the SG allows us, with the use of multiple Finn-Power Multi-Tool stations and full tonnage auto-indexes,” he continues. “The only setup required is for the occasional form tool changes. This keeps our productivity high. We do not have to change stations in the software very often. However, the Finn-Power Powerlink queuing software will flag programs when they are queued if the same tool is used in different stations.”

Mr. Hung reports that his company is continuously finding new ways to use the equipment. “This has been an on-going process, especially since at the beginning, Finn-Power’s on-site support showed us how to utilize the wheel technologies for various offset and ribbing forms,” he says. “As each new freezer project is released, we are looking to add new features that reduce the manufacturing cost of the product, particularly in the areas of secondary operations. Door seals, freezer coil insets, and integrated tread plates are some examples.”

Because of the significant reduction in manufacturing cycle time, Mr. Hung says the SG has enabled the manufacturer to respond more quickly to customer needs, while increasing the accuracy and quality of the parts. “The flexibility of the SG allows us to make our entire range of product from the smallest to the largest with the minimum amount of setup time for tooling and material handling,” he says. “With each new project, we are continually finding ways to manufacture our products more cost effectively for our customers.”


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