Safe Handling: Vacuum Lifters in Window Manufacturing

The German automotive industry was able to achieve a positive result overall for the year 2017, the diesel discussion and Brexit notwithstanding. Fuyao Europe GmbH benefited from this as well. This supplier with Chinese roots manufactures vehicle windows in Heilbronn and Leingarten, Germany, where it constructed a spacious warehouse and production hall at the end of 2017. For more speed and customization in supplying the big automotive manufacturers, Fuyao also optimized its logistics processes. Schmalz impressed with its overall concept, which contains both tube lifters and cranes.

The Schmalz components optimize the working processes in finishing the windshields.
Marius Popescu prepares the sheet for the application of adhesive.
Brinas Marian positions the windshield so that the sealing gasket can be attached with precision.
For the final inspection the windshield is placed on a swiveling gantry with four vacuum suction cups.
Special covers for the suction cups protect the delicate glass surface.

In Fuqing, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of Shanghai, the Fuyao Glass Industry Group produces raw glass for shipping to Heilbronn, among other places, where the German subsidiary, Fuyao Europe GmbH, processes the glass into complex vehicle windows. From its location in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Fuyao supplies every auto manufacturer producing in Europe. In addition to the German manufacturers, this includes GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and PSA as well as the system suppliers Webasto, Inalfa, BOS, and Inteva.  

Ten years after its founding in October 2007, Fuyao's premises in Heilbronn ran out of room for expansion. So the Fuyao Glass Industry Group bought about 8.2 hectares of industrial real estate in Leingarten, near Heilbronn, in order to build a new European headquarters. The architecture of the new building is based on modern factory and logistics planning designed to accommodate capacity increases as well as further growth. Currently the total number of staff at the Leingarten plant is 360 and increasing.

Lifting and crane technology by Schmalz

With its new production halls, Fuyao also optimized the working procedures in its production. One example involves the preparation of the windshields before they are sent to the automotive plants for final assembly. Up until a year ago, the panes were carried by hand with the help of vacuum lifting pads. In the meantime, the operations in the hall employ a total of five JumboFlex vacuum lifters and cranes from J. Schmalz GmbH. "And since additional production lines are already planned, there are more coming," adds the production manager. The design includes a ceiling-mounted gantry crane.

For workers like Marius Popescu, they are a considerable help. His job is to clean the windshields so that a special adhesive can be applied around the edges. To do this, first he has to lift the panes, each of which weighs ten to fifteen kilograms, out of their transport boxes and set them down on a rotatable mount. Lifting, lowering, and releasing the glass is intuitive and easy using the JumboFlex's central one-finger control. Once the adhesive bead has been applied, Popescu activates a pedal switch and the mount moves downward, depositing the workpiece on a conveyor belt that takes it to the drying area.

Gripping and flipping

If the adhesive is dry after ten minutes, then manufacturing step two begins. Fuyao employee Brinas Marian removes the pane from the drying rack with the aid of the vacuum lifter in order to apply a sealing gasket to the adhesive bead. Since the windshield is part of the vehicle's safety concept, this demands extreme precision. Marian lifts the pane onto a fixture containing a pre-loaded sealing gasket. In addition to precise positioning (which is handled by the machine), fixing the gasket correctly requires a constant pressure of five bar over a period of thirty seconds. This pressure is generated and maintained by multiple Schmalz suction cups. Protection covers on the suction cups prevent any marks or smears on the glass surface. Once this process is completed, the vacuum is released automatically. With the aid of the JumboFlex, the worker lifts the pane onto a gantry with four suction cups. Here, too, protection covers prevent possible damage to the glass. The grippers fix the pane in place even while the gantry swivels the workpiece by 180 degrees. In a third step, the pane is cleaned from both sides, the glass and the gasket are inspected, and another sealing edge is applied to the underside. Finally, the vacuum is released and the finished window is set on a grid box to be transported away.

One advantage of the Schmalz solution is considerably more ergonomic working processes. Another is the coherence of the overall concept: With the vacuum lifters equipped with vacuum pumps, round suction cups made of nitrile rubber (NBR), and silencer boxes, the glass sheets can be lifted and held efficiently, safely, and at reduced sound levels. Column-mounted jib cranes with six-meter jibs and 270 degrees of swivel afford sufficient freedom of movement. In addition, the JumboFlex permits very quick handling. Since Fuyao processes 150 to 200 windshields each shift, or up to 400 windows daily in two-shift operation, this is an essential characteristic.

Fuyao Europe decided to cooperate with Schmalz in Leingarten and Heilbronn based on previous experiences. "The vacuum lifters from Schmalz have been in use at other branches for a while and have performed admirably all around," explains the production manager. This impression is reinforced by the feedback coming from the new production hall: The employees and team leaders are satisfied through and through.


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