Painting axles – American Axle and Manufacturing
American Axle & Manufacturing (Detroit) operates an axle plant in Buffalo, NY. It has another facility 35 miles away, in St. Catherines, Ontario. Light truck axles produced at both plants are being painted in a 67,000-sq. ft. paint shop that was added to the Buffalo plant, an addition that is capable of reliably painting 6,000 axles per day (two shifts).
The painting had been done by a vendor. But it was being done manually and there were quality concerns. So American Axle management determined that doing the job in house was more beneficial. They made the decision to build the new plant, and from the time the contract was awarded to full production in the paint shop, only nine months elapsed.
The paint shop was built on the other side of railroad tracks from the existing American Axle manufacturing facility. A power-and-free conveyor from Jervis B. Webb (Farmington Hills, MI) that had been installed in the main plant in 1968 was extended so that the axles could be conveyed through a 350-ft long gallery to the new paint facility. Actually, there is a whole lot more Webb conveyor involved than the 350 ft. In all, the new paint shop has some 1.4 miles of conveyor.
The 200-lb axles (there are seven models produced) are transported from the end of the assembly line and into the paint shop at a rate of 410 per hour. Upon arrival, the axles are handled by a Webb-designed robotic transfer system. Axles not only arrive from the manufacturing building, but also from the St. Catherines plant. There are four robots, model S-420iw from Fanuc (Auburn Hills, MI) robots that handle the axles for load/unload operations. Axles are loaded onto double-axle carriers that transport the axles through the paint system. Actually, the paint system consists of two duplicate lines to meet throughput requirements.
Axles are manually prepped at a rate of up to 250 axles per hour per line. After prep, the axles start through a finishing system developed and installed by Thermal Engineering Corp. (TEC; Columbia, SC). First, they pass through an 81-ft three-stage spray washer for pretreating, then through a 75-ft. gas-fired oven and blow-off unit to dry the parts. There is then another manual prepping (openings are plugged; areas are masked). Next, the axles are conveyed through infrared temperature bring-up ovens, then into the two 43 ft. x 20 ft. down-draft, dry-filter paint spray booths. In each booth four ITW Ransburg (Toledo, OH) reciprocating paint bells apply about 90% of the coverage; the balance is applied by twin Fanuc robots. The coating applied is a zero-VOC material, XN-174 from United Paint and Chemical (Southfield, MI). When applied it is green in color. When it dries – within 15 minutes – it turns black.
After the axles exit the paint booths, the conveyors converge and the two parallel lines run the axles through a 85 ft. x 22 ft. TEC Turbulator gas oven for drying. Because space is a concern, the axles are oriented in a diagonal space-saving banking system. Out of the oven and on to demasking. Then it is back to twin Fanuc unload robots. The St. Catherines axles are placed back into shipping racks, and are transported via truck or rail to their destinations. The Buffalo axles go to the plant’s shipping facility.
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