The drive to lower costs and increase productivity on production lines is universal throughout the automotive industry. Visteon Corp. (Dearborn, MI) is no different. Recently, Visteon faced the task of lowering costs and improving productivity while minimizing operator strain in a catalytic converter testing application.

In the application, assistance was needed to help an operator pick up an unwieldy, 42-pound catalytic converter from a turntable and carry it to a gauge fixture for leak testing. Once the part passed the test, it needed to be moved to a rack for shipping. The operator then returned to the table to receive the next part. The required production rate was 100 parts per hour, resulting in 200 lifts per hour, because the operator handled each part twice.

An air balancer was originally installed in the test cell, but numerous problems caused the operators to abandon this equipment and perform the task manually. This resulted in a bottleneck on the line that reduced productivity. The problem with the air balancer was that it was too complicated. It had six control buttons and an unwieldy end effector. Also, the learning curve for the device was long.

Using conventional tools, the process required an extra operator to keep up with line speed, which increased costs. And even with a second operator, ergonomic risks were still an issue. In effect, a single operator was responsible for manually lifting 67,200 pounds per 8-hour shift.

Visteon began to investigate intelligent assist devices for the testing operation. After evaluating several, the company conducted a trial using the Cobotics (Evanston, IL) iLift in conjunction with a more compact, easy-to-use end effector.

iLift has a servomotor and a responsive in-line handle. It produces fast, power-assisted up and down movements. The float mode allows hands-on manipulation of the load, to fine-tune its position without actuating the control handle, saving valuable seconds. "Virtual limits" prevent product damage. The new end effector features a manual clamp and is smaller than the previous unit.

iLift met the needs of the test cell application. It enables a single operator to lift each heavy catalytic converter. Fast, precise movements help reduce cycle times. Visteon improved its labor productivity for this application by 100 percent, allowing a single operator to maintain the production rate of 100 parts per hour.

For more information on lift assist devices, call 847-425-1200 or visit