A typical car contains some 30,000 parts, including fasteners, from dozens of suppliers. All these components must arrive at an OEM’s assembly plant in the right sequence at the exact moment that they’re needed. It’s a massive undertaking.

In fact, it’s so large a task that many OEMs rely on logistics companies to manage the process of accepting shipments of parts from suppliers and sequencing them based on customer orders.

One such company is Diversity Vuteq in Princeton, IN. Workers at Diversity Vuteq’s thriving facility deliver some 6,500 parts each workday to the Toyota assembly plant, also in Princeton, which produces the Sienna minivan and the Highlander SUV. In addition to logistics services, Diversity Vuteq also supplies injection-molded plastic parts for Toyota.

“We are a just-in-time supplier and are constantly moving a high volume of automotive components of all shapes and sizes, from parts that go under the hood to under the body,” says Nathan Stone, production and logistics manager at Diversity Vuteq.

Throughout each shift, empty and filled totes flow seamlessly across 38 bays equipped with heavy duty, galvanized steel rollers from UNEX Manufacturing Inc. But this uninterrupted volley of carton flow was not always the case.

A few years ago, Stone and his team recognized the need for a major upgrade to the carton flow area. Components were changing, which meant totes were getting bigger and heavier. It was time to make significant changes to keep pace with the automotive industry’s ever-evolving demands.

“At the time, we were using skinny tracks with skinny rollers. The wheels were falling apart. Shafts and bearings were all over the floor. Totes were hanging up. Team members were climbing inside the lane to pull out the totes, and that was a safety issue,” says Stone. “We needed a solution that could drop in easily, since components are always changing, and we had to find something durable, efficient and safe.”

Stone met with Darrin Wicks, material handling specialist at Indoff Corp., a distributor of material handling equipment based in St. Louis, to design a new and improved carton flow area that could meet the facility’s needs for years to come. Indoff has used the UNEX product line to help its customers improve their processes in many different projects.


Electricity, Building, Line

“We modified the entire system to give the plant the flexibility to put heavy and large containers, as well as small, light ones, onto the racks,” says Wicks. “We selected the heavy duty rollers from UNEX, because they provided the versatility and durability we were looking for.”

The team put a few lanes to the test. “They rolled better than we ever expected,” says Wicks.

After the rollers passed with flying colors, the team installed 652 heavy duty SpanTrack steel roller lanes across 38 bays. The installation was completed in one week during the plant’s regular shutdown to avoid downtime at the busy facility.

“Overall, this was a massive project. We changed our entire storage system,” says Stone. “With the old system, if I had to change finished goods, I also had to change the conveyor beds. Now, all I have to do is move my signage and my totes. Moving things around and joining lanes together is so easy.”


The Need For Knuckles

Inside the plant, totes filled with parts move at a steady clip as team members fill orders from the automaker. At the same time, empty totes are collected, refilled with parts, and returned to a top level. “The lanes with the newly filled totes are pitched, so height can be an ergonomic issue if our team members have to lift the totes too high and push them toward production,” says Stone.

To minimize over-the-shoulder lifting and to ensure the efficient flow of totes down the length of the lane, the UNEX team installed knuckles at rear-loading areas. The attachments create a bend in the track, which lowers the pick point. “We typically use the knuckles with light duty rollers,” says Ryan McKinney, sales manager for the central east region at UNEX. “For this project, we customized the knuckles for the heavy duty rollers to make it easy for workers to load totes and to help meet the customer’s ergonomic standards.”

Stone recalls that the previous rollers “were just not made for the abuse of a high volume of totes moving forward on a daily basis. The UNEX rollers are tough. We haven’t had to do any repairs. The frames are solid.”

The all-steel, full-width rollers with ball bearings allow for less slope and maximum carton support. And, they help boxes and totes track straighter.

“If there’s ever a concern about weight, customers should think seriously about using the steel rollers from UNEX,” says Wicks. “These will be workhorses in the plant for a long time.”

The UNEX racks also provide a clean, uniform look across the plant. “There are no gaps. Everything is butted together well. It’s much cleaner,” says Stone. “When people walk in here, they are impressed.”

The heavy duty SpanTrack steel rollers have been working well at the plant for months. But there is another benefit that Stone thinks is also important. “The steel roller lanes give me one less thing to worry about, and that goes for my team members too. Manpower is difficult to keep these days. If I can eliminate the extra headaches for the team, they will stick around longer and be happier workers.”

For more information, click www.unex.com.