Handling Reduced by 90 Percent

Tailor-made parts baskets give a supplier to the automotive industry a more efficient cleaning process and, at the same time, significantly reduce manual handling during the packaging process.

With the aim of maintaining current high quality standards and reducing costs, Ibex Automotive GmbH, a supplier to the automotive industry, carefully scrutinised its conventional manufacturing processes in order to identify whether specific components could be produced more cost-effectively using different methods. It became clear that cold forming allowed for cost savings because of a reduction in the number of steps in the process. "A combination of cold forming and cutting often provides the best solution in terms of technology and costs," explains Konrad Tautenhahn, project engineer at Ibex Automotive. This was the case for two different steel components for car handbrakes. The components are formed by a sister company using a near net shape process and then machined by Ibex. Before they are packed into the blister packaging provided by the customer, they have to be cleaned to remove residues of machining oil and swarf.

High standards of cleanliness
Precise residual contamination" figures are specified for each type of component, including the two brake parts, which consist of a cylindrical component, with a special thread and a mushroom-shaped nut. Ibex could only achieve the required level of cleanliness by using special parts baskets. "The parts must be securely fixed in the baskets during the cleaning and handling processes, but the contact points must be as small as possible and the functional surfaces must not be touched at all. The parts must also not come into contact with one another," says Konrad Tautenhahn. Another important factor was a design which allows the parts to be cleaned to the required standard as quickly as possible and keeps parts handling to a minimum. Having drawn up the list of requirements, Konrad Tautenhahn approached a number of manufacturers of cleaning and transport containers, including the German company Metallform Wächter. After his first meetings with Metallform Wächter, the project engineer was impressed by the service and the wide range of interesting ideas which the parts container manufacturer offered.

One basket for both parts
Different blister packs are used for each of the two components, but they have the same grid layout of 8 x 9 parts. For this reason, the design department at Metallform created a basket with a size and structure that match this layout. Using the specifications from Ibex, the ideal support point for each component was identified in a CAD tool. The result was a solution which allowed one basket to be used for both parts. This was made possible by the inclusion of different levels with the mounting points for each part. For example, the cylindrical parts are positioned across the supports whereas the mounting points for the mushroom-shaped nuts are longitudinal. Therefore, only one basket is needed for handling and cleaning two completely different parts, but the basket is still designed specifically for each product. Ibex uses a total of 264 of these baskets.

Cleaning parts quickly and safely
The baskets are made of cylindrical stainless steel rods with an electropolished surface. The round material ensures easy accessibility, which means that the parts can be rinsed effectively and dried quickly. Stainless steel has a long service life and does not contaminate the components or allow impurities from the baths in the form of corrosion or zinc deposits to affect them. "All the joints between the round bars are fully welded. As a result, there are no sharp corners, edges or pieces of wire that could injure the employees who are loading or transporting the parts," explains Konrad Tautenhahn. Several baskets each containing 72 components of one type are grouped together to form a batch for cleaning purposes. The parts are cleaned in a modern solvent cleaning machine supplied by Höckh.

Minimal handling
After the cleaning process, the parts are packed in the blister packages. This is where the benefits of designing the baskets to match the packaging become apparent. Instead of moving each part into the package individually, the package is placed on top of the basket, which is then upended and all 72 parts are tipped into the package at once. This task can be completed in a maximum of 30 seconds, whereas the manual process of moving the parts individually took around 5 seconds per part. As Ibex manufactures around 18,000 of these parts a day, moving them manually would take a total of 25 hours each day. The upending process reduces the handling time to just over two hours per day.