Taking one step at a time

Automotive parts manufacturer takes modular approach to growth

PRACTICAL WELDING TODAY® NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2005

November 8, 2005

Automotive parts manufacturer Pridgeon & Clay was looking for a way to manage the growth it was forecasting. The company decided to buy several robotic welding workcells and modular air filtration systems so it could rearrange the facility's layout and give the company the opportunity to buy one piece of equipment at a time.

RoboVent Floor Saver, a self-contained filtration system that mounts on top of a robotic welding workcell, helped Pridgeon & Clay execute its plan for equipment versatility throughout its Franklin, Ind., facility. If the company wants to reconfigure the manufacturing floor, it can move the ventilation systems with the equipment.

Pridgeon & Clay has a lot riding on its manufacturing capabilities.

Entire automobiles depend on the stamped and fineblanked components the company makes every day. The company manufactures medium and large weldments, including chassis parts, exhaust system parts, door beams, engine mounts, and engine hangers. In addition, the firm provides design, prototyping, and validation for its customers.

Nearly every vehicle platform in North America, including Toyota's, Honda's, Nissan's, GM's, Ford's, and Chrysler's, uses the company's parts. The company supplies 10 percent OEM-direct, 85 percent to Tier 1 customers, and 5 percent as aftermarket.

Understandably, over the 56 years the company has been in business, it has grown. Today it employs nearly 800 workers in three manufacturing plants, one of which is overseas.

Over the last three years, the company's Franklin, Ind., facility has enjoyed significant growth, and with it came the need for an investment in additional welding capacity and equipment.

"Our Franklin, Indiana, plant has undergone a tremendous amount of growth in the past three years, where we now have eight robotic weld cells that run three shifts a day," said Ross Martin, vice president of operations for Pridgeon & Clay. "We wanted to put more manufacturing content in the plant, specializing in welding assemblies."

Deciding How to Grow

The first decision the company had to make was how to grow. It was important to consider continuous growth in the company's future and how it would affect the facility's layout if it required additional equipment. Another factor was capital equipment and when and how to invest in it.

Martin said that growing in a modular way was instrumental in helping the company manage the equipment costs of growth. A modular approach would help the facility maintain flexibility that it wouldn't have with robotic welding workcells that require a ducted ventilation system. With ductwork, if the company wanted to change the facility's layout, it would have to hire a contractor to come in, prepare an estimate, and eventually reduct the facility.

By taking a modular approach, the company would be able to pick up a workcell and its fume extraction system with a forklift and take it to another area in the facility if needed. In addition, purchasing a robotic welding workcell and its corresponding ventilation system one at a time meant that the company could invest in equipment as business increased instead of buying it all at once, before an increase in business took place.

Equipment Choices and Ventilation Requirements

Martin, who was responsible for purchasing new equipment, chose robotic welding workcells that use Panasonic VR4 robots.
The robots, mounted in a shuttle table system, provided faster cycle times than conventional turntable robots would, Martin said.
"Cycle time was a key factor in the decision, as the torch-to-torch time was approximately two seconds instead of six to eight seconds for a conventional turntable robot," he said.

For ventilation, Martin chose the floor-mounted RoboVent™ self-contained air filtration system for robotic welding cells from Great Lakes Air Systems, Clawson, Mich. Martin liked the RoboVent because of its versatility and ability to move easily as the company added new welding cells and equipment and reconfigured the plant.

"We haven't been restricted like a typical central (ducted) system where you're into reducting the whole ceiling and airflow architecture," he said. "The Great Lakes system most definitely is more supportive of the flexible approach rather than joining into a central ducted system, and the amount of suction is very impressive. You can feel the draw as you're standing there. I don't think you'd get that kind of draw from a central system."

The Franklin plant currently has four of the ventilation units, with each unit ventilating two welding cells. Martin said he favors adding ventilation systems as welding volume increases.

"When we bought the first robot cell, we also purchased the RoboVent unit for ventilation, which is really the right way to do it," Martin said.

Results

In 2002, before the Franklin facility expanded with its new equipment, it ran two robotic welding workcells. Adding six more workcells over the past two years has increased the company's sales about 270 percent.

Technicians regularly perform air sample testing and find that the air in the facility consistently exceeds Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) air quality standards. As a bonus, the new filtration units brighten the facility with their mounted lights.

"The light is important because when you're MIG welding, you have to rely on good visuals to look at porosity and pinholes. Having a well-lighted work area for the operator is important. If you don't have good lighting, you'll have a lot of visual defects that unintentionally get by," Martin said.
Martin said a modular approach to investing in equipment has allowed the company to pace equipment investment with business growth, which is a key advantage.

"That's pretty darn important for a company as it tries to manage growth," he said.

Pridgeon & Clay Inc., 50 Cottage Grove S.W., Grand Rapids, MI 49507-1685, 616-241-5675, fax 616-241-1799, www.pridgeonandclay.com

Great Lakes Air Systems Inc., 1238 Anderson Road, Clawson, MI 48017, 248-655-1800

Panasonic Factory Solutions Co. of America, 909 Asbury Dr., Buffalo Grove, IL 60089, 847-495-6100,www.panasonicfa.com



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