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issue: October 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

Production Highlight: Refrigerators
Building on Success At Whirlpool Evansville

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Finishing refrigerators is a big job at Whirlpool Corporation in Evansville, IN, U.S., which is the world's largest top-mount refrigerator production under one roof.

Since 1965, it had been using an ITW Ransburg (Toledo, OH, U.S.) liquid finishing system. Thirty years later, Whirlpool was ready for an updated system to handle newer finishing materials and the company's growing production.

The search for the best all-around solution, according to Bob Young, technical supervisor for the finishing system project, led the company back to an electrostatic liquid system and ITW Ransburg. "We'd gotten 30-plus years out of our Ransburg system," he notes, "and their new system offered everything we needed."

Brad Vogt, process engineer in charge of the project, agrees. "This new system is helping us out quite a bit. It's shortened up the process, opened up floor space, improved the potential for new processes, and minimized cleanup."

A major consideration was that moving 1.3 million units annually inside one facility makes floor space a precious commodity. Keeping the operation under one roof became a pivotal cost-saving issue. "Switching to a new powder system would have required putting up a new building and relocating other departments in order to make room," Mr. Vogt says. "Going with the new Ransburg liquid system solved that problem." Staying with a liquid system reportedly saved 25 to 30 percent of the capital earmarked for the entire project - capital better invested in the process.

The new system requires 70-percent less floor space than the previous system, estimates Dan Sanker, the Ransburg representative who helped design the new electrostatic system. "The system's Eurorack design is very compact," Mr. Vogt adds. "It's actually opened up floor space, which opens opportunities for new processes."

In addition, pneumatic hookups and streamlined controls offer, as Mr. Vogt puts it, "a cleaner, quicker installation. Basically, you wheel in the unit, install a few air hoses, and you're done. There's less wiring and conduit running to various stations. All the solenoids and controls are housed right in the control panel in 4x6 cards."

In production, Mr. Vogt says the new electrostatic liquid system will bring the company as much as 40-percent savings in material costs compared to the previous system, and 50 to 60 percent savings compared to going with a powder system. The higher film builds of powder systems became too costly for Whirlpool's lower film build requirements, Mr. Vogt explains.

Much of the savings is due to the superior flow control and consistent coverage of the Ransburg PPS 2001 system. Material flow is monitored with computerized precision, checked 20 times per sec, and adjusted automatically to maintain a consistent 1.5-mil film thickness. That precision reportedly will earn added savings with first-pass transfer efficiency, especially with the Evansville operation's high production volume.

Compatibility with the latest materials will help cut VOC emissions by 60 percent, a benefit for both company and operators, Mr. Vogt adds. "The new system will allow use of more worker-friendly coatings and reduce the amount of solvents in the air. The new coatings have a much higher flash point too, which also improves worker safety."

Whirlpool's new system squeezes time out of the process, as well as costs. "Our processing time is cut by a third," says Mr. Vogt. "We can offer reduced lead times with more responsive production. We can change colors much easier. And faster line speeds will meet any capacity issues we can forsee."

Today, operators can change or add colors in seconds. Because the new system supplies more material per bell with greater consistency, the company can use fewer bells per station at increased line speeds without a loss in quality.

In today's competitive consumer market, where an inconsistent finish can put a refrigerator in the deep freeze, appearance is everything. Mr. Vogt says the precision film controls with the new electrostatic system will resolve key quality issues, cut training costs, and boost labor savings and cost effectiveness even higher.

"One of the reasons that we went with the controls is because we could set the process parameters and get consistent coverage time after time," he observes. "We're depending totally on automation to get the job done."

Installing the system without disrupting production was no small feat. Installation was allowed "only at certain times," Mr. Young says. "It was quite a juggling act with all the coordination required."

Yet, the system was up and running according to schedule. Mr. Vogt and Mr. Young gave credit to the supplier's engineers for the smooth transition. "It's gone pretty smoothly," Mr. Young says. "They worked with us and handled it very well."


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