Leicester-based CI Logistics has designed, installed and commissioned an automated conveyor solution for Caterpillar’s Stockton facility.
Caterpillar established its Stockton facility in 1996 when it took over the plant formerly owned and operated by Brown Design engineering.
Since its opening, the plant has been responsible for producing the key fabrications that go towards assembling of Caterpillar’s ‘F Series - Backhoe Loader’ product which is built in Leicester.
“Here at Stockton,” explained Peter Roberts, senior manufacturing project specialist at the Caterpillar Stockton site, “we are extremely proud of both our safety record and the efficiency of the plant. Indeed, it is these key drivers that were responsible for our decision to automate the conveyor systems at the facility.
"Prior to the introduction of these automated systems, we used to move heavy parts around by overhead crane and forklift trucks. This system was no longer efficient and did not make best use of the floor space within the facility," he explained.
Peter continued: “To address the issue, CI Logistics has designed, installed and commissioned conveyors and transfer cars at three important stages of the production process. The first location is at the hitch assembly where they have created what is essentially a product cooling line between two welding stations.
“The heavy steel product is loaded onto a transfer car at one end and indexed down the line station by station. At the end of the line it is lifted, via a scissor lift incorporated into the transfer car, onto a higher platform for the next process.
“At the main frame assembly we again needed a work in progress accumulation to cool the main frames after robotic welding. CI built a transfer car system capable of handling these large, heavy items. The system automatically indexes each chassis forward to the next station allowing for dynamic accumulation with no loss of positions on the line.
“The third solution the company provided was for the side frames line and tower assembly sets. Here they designed two systems that mirrored each other to maintain a smooth flow of work. The side frames are automatically indexed forward to the next station via a transfer car, similar to the mainframe chassis. In this line, however, they have had to develop a system that takes the product through a 90-degree direction change in order to fit the system into the existing workflow.
“The tower assembly sets are moved in specially designed steel pallets along a powered roller conveyor system. This automatically indexes tower sets to the next station, again allowing for dynamic accumulation. As the tower assembly line runs parallel to the side frames, it also has to go through a 90-degree direction change.
“In addition, when the tower assembly sets have been unloaded at the far end, the empty pallets have to be returned to the start of the station. CI has achieved this with an automated return roller conveyor system that runs underneath the conveyor carrying the full pallets.
“Once it is back at the beginning of the station it is reloaded with a new tower assembly set. A scissor lift then raises the full pallets for automatic loading onto the roller conveyor and the process starts all over again.”
An experienced design team
“Without a doubt, one of the keys to the success of this project has been the design skills of CI’s engineers and in particular, Phil Taylor. From the outset Phil did a really good job of keeping things simple and then developing the systems to meet the exact requirements of the production process.
“As a result, we have achieved our main goals for the installation. These were to improve the health and safety of our workforce by reducing crane and forklift truck movements; save floor space to improve the flow of jobs around the plant and finally, to significantly reduce the distance travelled by parts during the production process.
“Achieving these goals has built upon Stockton’s safety first culture and it is now a more productive plant. Both of these improvements in no small way contribute towards the overall efficiency of the plant.
“For us, this was the first time we have had automated conveyor systems and so it was a real benefit to work with a company like CI who very quickly grasped our unique set of needs. Not only are they thoroughly professional, but they are also great people too. Their engineers worked closely with our team, both on the shop floor and in the office, to ensure that the solution was the right one for our needs.”
Making the right choice
“This was the first time we have worked with CI and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Because we had no experience of this type of installation, I spoke with our colleagues at our Desford facility before drawing up a short list of three companies to quote for the job.
“CI Logistics was selected for the overall package it put together. We believe this was the best value and best quality solution and I’m really glad we selected them for this important project. Naturally, with a job like this there will always be issues, but the great thing was that CI made sure those issues were sorted efficiently either over the phone or by sending an engineer to site."
Peter concluded: “Because we wanted to hit the ground running with the new system, CI set up a pilot run at their Leicester premises and we were able to see trial runs of the system and controls prior to installation. This was a real benefit because it meant that it was up and running very quickly, despite the fact that the installation had to be done in a fully operational facility.
“At Caterpillar we are always looking to bring in new technology to improve the business and we are delighted that CI has delivered a quality product that worked from day one. I would not hesitate to recommend them to any of our other Caterpillar facilities,” he said.