American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. has pledged $100 million worth of improvements this year at its Three Rivers, MI, plant, where it produces front and rear axles and assembles front and rear propeller shafts for cars, light trucks, SUVs, and commercial vehicles. It’s one of the most important operations in the producer’s global organization, and the new installations reportedly will include advanced machining equipment, laboratory systems for R&D, and IT upgrades.
But, any manufacturer investing in capital equipment also knows that effective operations rely as well on the automation systems developed to make machines achieve optimal productivity.
American Axle tapped Evana Automation Specialists, to develop and install a 21-step assembly and test system for the Three Rivers plant. As explained by Evana, a systems integrator and custom developer of automated systems, it introduced a Lean manufacturing process to AAM, helping it to reduce process complexity and improve uptime. The new process also cut the number of operators that had been called for in AAM's automated concept.
Evana is a subsidiary of Phillips Service Industries. Its expertise in motion control, robotics integration and system architecture links production equipment, material handling systems, data collection, and networking, as well as computer software and hardware into flexible, unified technology for manufacturing. For example, it integrates testing equipment into assembly systems, or implements stand-alone systems for automatic testing.
At the Three Rivers plant, the developer’s approach integrated automatic and semi-automatic processes for assembling and testing electronic actuator assemblies. "The Evana Automation team worked closely with AAM to make sure all objectives and requirements were met," according to Randy Wire, general manager, adding that the result is “a solid platform” for assembly and testing of critical transmission control components.
Following that, Evana undertook another project for AAM. It developed and installed a “Lean” clutch assembly line at the same Michigan operation, following a concept and specification that AAM presented. The original proposal carried a price tag 50% over the budgeted amount, but Evana’s Lean approach called for the same number of operators as an automated line, but with the flexibility to use fewer operators for smaller volumes.
Going with the Lean approach, AAM now has an integrated automatic/semi-automatic process for assembling high volumes of automobile clutch assemblies.
"Evana Automation's use of vision guidance and robotic integration is a key competitive advantage for our customers," according to Wire.