A bespoke overhead conveyor, designed and manufactured by LB Foster Materials Handling, has been installed into the new paint processing plant of SignFab UK, the UK’s leading trade only sign supplier and manufacturer. Automating the plant has enabled SignFab to have the ability to double its production capacity.
LB Foster was awarded the conveyor contract through the Kettering based third party consultant, Colour Dynamics, who were tasked with putting together the best group of companies to deliver the most efficient and cost effective paint facility for SignFab.
The general manager of SignFab UK is Mike Smith, he comments "As part of the company’s expansion plans it was decided to automate our production with an overhead conveyor. Before we had always moved the sub straights manually through the washing, drying and paint processes, however as the company grew, this was increasingly causing issues. Not only is it difficult to manhandle large, hot, unwieldy signage in and out of ovens, it is also very easy for the operators to unknowingly touch the newly powder coated panels during the loading process and compromise the finish.
"Harry Adams, the managing director of Colour Dynamics, recommended LB Foster to us and so we all worked together on the design of the new facility. This was a challenging task due firstly to the space restrictions of that particular area of our building, and secondly to the fact that we use up to 16 colour changes on average per shift, which is unusual in our industry."
Persistent, flexible and innovative
"The team at LB Foster were very diligent throughout the project. Due to the small footprint and our objectives for the system, they revised 18 different drawings in order to satisfy our goals. To be honest, what they have achieved is outstanding.
"To overcome the space restriction issue which meant we couldn’t swing the 4m sub straights sideways on the overhead conveyor, they came up with the idea of using pneumatic turntables. These are a real innovation, allowing us to keep 5m long flight bars aligned in the same orientation.
"During the building work it was important that we kept the business running. We had to demolish almost one half of the building interior wall to get the new paint plant to fit in which made life difficult for everyone."
Co-operation and team work
"LB Foster had a great installation team who worked to our regime, coming in during the day and working in areas which were not going to cause us any production issues. When it became difficult for them to carry on the installation work around us, they would come back after 4.30pm or weekends when the factory was closed."
The cleverly designed LB Foster power and free conveyor has the capacity to handle loads up to 5m long, weighing up to half a tonne. At the start of the process operators manually load the signage onto the flight bars before they are pushed to the start of the powered section of the conveyor.
They are then automatically taken through the pre-treatment section – wash and phosphate, a process that takes just over six minutes. The signage then moves into a dry off oven. A little over six minutes later the signage leaves the oven and transverses side ways to accumulate in a buffer store of pretreated product.
Here the flight bars are pushed to two uniquely designed pneumatic turntables, which rotate the signage whilst staying in the same orientation. They are then automatically sent into either the powder booth or the wet spray bake facility.
The final part of the journey is through a second oven to cure the powder coating. After leaving the powder coat paint booth, the signage is manually transversed across into a buffer area to line up with the curing oven. This buffer facility holds the flight bars prior to entry into the oven. Up to six flight bars at a time can then be moved manually into the curing oven. From the curing oven, the signs enter a cooling zone where they are manually offloaded.
Automatic savings with improved health and safety
Mike Smith concludes, "The paint shop used to be the Achilles heel of the business as we could not move product through the business efficiently. Now assembly and the metal shop have had their efficiencies increased to feed the new paint shop process. Automating the system has removed all manual handling issues, endeavouring to decrease our reworks and delivering improved safety with significant cost savings.
"At full stretch we are now constantly moving 20 flight bars safely and efficiently around a very restricted space. The new system enables us to dramatically speed up our process with the ability to almost double our through put with maximum efficiency at dramatically reduced costs."