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Getting under the Ford Transit

13 May 2009

Excel Automation recently designed and installed a 70m vehicle handling system to transport Ford Transits through an underbody treatment plant engineered and manufactured by George Koch for the Southampton plant of Ford Motor Company. The system is designed to handle 30 vehicles per hour.

The circular system comprises a six inch overhead 'Power & Free' conveyor with three pneumatic pusher assemblies and two scissor-lifts that raise and lower vehicles at the load and unload positions. In addition, the overhead conveying system is equipped with seven "gull-wing" type vehicle carriers, which transport the Transit vans.

The automatic finishing booth designed by George Koch and Sons uses two spray robots to apply an anti-corrosion material to the underside of Transit vans in the final operation before vehicles leave the plant. A manual back-up booth is also provided for security of production.

At ground level, Transit vans are driven to a vehicle load area and onto a platform that is mounted on one of the scissor-lifts, which is installed in a pit. A series of wheel guides are positioned to ensure that the vehicle is central to the load station.

Once the vehicle is in the correct position, the driver/operator applies the handbrake, switches off the engine and exits the vehicle, pressing a push-button to start the loading operation once he is clear of the area.

The scissor-lift then raises the vehicle to the transfer height approximately 2.5 metres above ground level. A carrier with its gull-wing arms open is then moved into position around the vehicle by a pneumatic pusher and held behind a conveyor-stop. The arms of the carrier close so that the load bearing fingers are beneath the vehicle and the scissors lift platform.

The scissor-lift then lowers and the carrier's fingers pass through slots in the platform and engage on the wheels of the van. Carriers are designed to accommodate short and medium wheel base vehicles. The scissor-lift continues to lower until it is clear of the carrier, leaving the Transit captive in the gull-wing carrier. Once the scissor-lift is clear the conveyor-stop opens and the carrier is pushed forward, where it engages with a pusher-dog mounted on the process chain of the Power & Free conveyor. The process chain then pushes the carrier through the automatic booth where the underside of the vehicle is sprayed by two Fanuc robots, which apply the coating to all accessible areas of the underside. The robots are programmed to avoid sensitive underbody components such as catalysts and exhaust systems, depending on which Transit model is in the booth.

The vehicle progresses through the booth at process speed to a second enclosure where the coating is applied manually to any areas that the robots were unable to spray. In the event of a robot failure, the manual enclosure can be used as a back-up facility.

At the end of the cycle the process chain delivers the vehicle for unloading to a conveyor-stop positioned over the second scissor-lift. At this point the process chain dog is detached from the carrier and the chain is routed away to the load position.

The unload cycle is the reverse of the load cycle.

The carrier, still holding the vehicle, is held in the conveyor-stop. The scissor-lift raises and the fingers in the platform pass through slots on the carrier and engage on the wheels of the Transit. The scissor-lift continues to rise, lifting the vehicle clear of the carrier arms. The lift then stops, the carrier arms open and the lift lowers the vehicle to ground level where an operator drives it away.

The empty carrier is then transferred back to the load station by a series of pneumatic pushers, and the sequence repeats to pick up the next vehicle.

Commenting on the installation, Steve Morgan of George Koch says: "We worked closely with Ford to create a specification for the finishing system and then worked in partnership with Excel to develop the extremely complex bespoke conveying system, which was not only required to load, lift, transport and unload completed vehicles, but also to integrate with the two robots."


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