Innovative Conveyor Speeds Up Assembly of Farm Equipment
One year ago, the Bourgault Industries’ plant in St. Brieux, SK, had no assembly line—just a 396-by-32-by-9-foot pit. This area had been recently dug out and lined with concrete as part of the Canadian farm equipment manufacturer’s massive plant expansion.
Today, Bourgault proudly showcases the moving-floor assembly line that has been installed at the facility. The line is 375 feet long, 25 feet wide and weighs in at just under 1 million pounds. It is specifically designed for manufacturing the company’s pneumatic seeding and tillage equipment, which can reach widths of 125 feet and weigh more than 75,000 pounds.
Before installing the new line, equipment assembly was performed at two locations in the plant. In one area, the framework was welded together and powder coated, before hydraulic cylinders were installed. This assembly was then moved to another area where ground openers, and fertilizer and seed dispensing systems were assembled and tested.
“We conducted considerable research on different systems for assembly of our tillage equipment,” says David Konopacki, lead engineer at Bourgault. “We consulted with a number of system manufacturers, but none could provide a solution to meet our needs because the sheer size and weight of our equipment exceeded their systems’ capabilities.”
This dilemma led company engineers to consider both traditional and nontraditional assembly lines as a
solution, including a moving-floor one. The engineering team determined that a properly designed moving floor could support the assemblers, the parts and kitting systems they used during equipment assembly, and the assembled equipment. It also would improve worker safety, increase assembly efficiency and integrate testing so the equipment would be ready to be shipped once it reached the end of the assembly line.
To make this complex concept a reality, Bourgault hired PFlow Industries Inc. in July 2013 to co-engineer, design and build the line. PFlow specializes in developing and installing automation systems and vertical lifts for manufacturers throughout the United States.
The assembly line consists of 37 wheeled carts that are queued together to form a continuous floor that is pushed along on rails by a pair of servo-controlled hydraulic cylinders. Each cart measures 10 by 25 feet, has a durable steel plate surface, and weighs 9,000 pounds.
Carts are not propelled individually. Rather, the cylinders push the first cart, which then propels the entire line of carts. A proportional-integral-derivative controller with position feedback enables precise velocity and acceleration control of each cylinder.
Floor speed can be set from 0.125 to 3.25 fpm, as production requires. Moving from the beginning of the line to the end can take as little as 1.75 hours or as long as 45 hours. When assembled equipment reaches the end of the line, it is rolled off. The cart, meanwhile, gets lowered below the assembly line and is transported along an underneath treble-rail system back to the front of the line for reuse.
After one year of operation, Bourgault estimates a productivity increase of 30 percent. This is because the line allows assemblers to travel along with the equipment during assembly and to easily access components and materials at the specific point where they are needed.
For more information on moving-floor assembly lines, call 414-352-9000 or visit www.pflow.com.