"In this business, you’ve got to be fast on your feet," says Bruce Wakefield, manufacturing engineer for Mann+Hummel Automotive (South Bend, IN). The company produces injection-molded plastic manifolds for the automobile industry —using lost core and multishell technology.

Injection-molded plastic manifolds offer several important benefits over the previously universal cast metal versions. They are lighter in weight and lower in cost. Injection-molded manifolds don’t require honing or polishing, and they permit more complex geometries than cast metal manifolds, thereby improving airflow. Plastic manifold components are friction welded on the production line, eliminating the need for later assembly on the vehicle engine production line.

The South Bend operation produces three-part manifolds for four-cylinder General Motors engines, and a four-part assembly for eight-cylinder Chrysler engines.

As with typical auto parts manufacturing facilities, the Mann+Hummel manifold plant requires a high degree of efficiency and a certain amount of flexibility.

"There are varying factors we must consider when making production decisions," explains Wakefield. "We have major investments in production equipment and stringent delivery requirements for finished products. To ensure that we can meet our primary commitments, we may have excess production capacity that we can sell. At the same time, we must avoid downtime, which requires being able to service our production lines quickly, including any necessary reconfigurations and repairs."

The manifold production lines include conveyors that feed three 1,750-ton presses located in three cells. Work in process goes from the presses to a collect chute, where operators put parts in totes and continue on to workstations where automatic welding takes place.

The original conveyor system, installed when the plant was built in 1989, was a typical fixed steel design, with runs varying up to approximately 80 feet. Although the conveyors performed reliably, there were circumstances when they did not offer the flexibility or ability to "tweak" a configuration that would have helped production flow. When manifold designs changed, the molding cells needed to be reconfigured, and in some instances, this meant ordering new conveyors, which also meant waiting weeks for them to be delivered.

In early 2000, Mann+Hummel replaced the conventional steel conveyors on a secondary line with a DynaCon modular plastic conveyor system manufactured by Dynamic Conveyor Corp. (Muskegon, MI).

The DynaCon system proved to be reliable and offered flexibility with a wide range of module designs. Mann+Hummel decided to apply the system to the line feeding one of its primary manifold molding cells.

"We had a tight arrangement in one cell, and the DynaCon system made it a lot easier to bring the parts in on the conveyor," says Wakefield. "We angled the end of the conveyor to be more ergonomic with the positioning of the parts to the operator. With the flexibility of the DynaCon, we were able to try a 30- or 45-degree angle to the conveyor as we were laying out the cell on paper. It gave us a lot of flexibility in our floor plan layout. Plus, the system gives us a lot of flexibility down the road if we want to move some gear, reconfigure the cell, add a piece of equipment or take one out. And it’s easy to reconfigure the conveyor."

Wakefield says his group got a lot of assistance from Dynamic Conveyor for the initial DynaCon installations. "We didn’t really have much to do. We just gave them the floor plan and then worked with them, as they suggested and laid out what they thought we should do differently in order to gain the greatest flexibility. They also came in and assembled the conveyors, so we had a turnkey system."

For more information about conveyors, call 866-249-2641 or visit http://www.dynamicconveyor.com.