Automated Manufacturing Systems Spur Growth and Confidence at SEW Eurodrive

THE CHALLENGE
SEW Eurodrive of Lyman, S.C., first began looking into automated manufacturing systems during the late ’90s.The company sought automation as a means to enhance efficiency and competitiveness. SEW appointed a team to begin researching automation solutions to help improve productivity, growth, safety and quality of life for their employees.

SEW’s early investments in automation primarily consisted of linear pallet systems; however, other applications required custom solutions not suitable for this type of system. As a result, SEW invested in its first robotic automation system. The company recognized from early results that automation was improving productivity; however, due to issues between their milling machine provider and third-party integration company the cell’s installation timeline stretched and ultimately, the operating performance was unsatisfactory. SEW was unable to meet its intended goals and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) objectives.


THE SOLUTION
In 2006, SEW hired Makino to fix and complete the existing eight-machine robotic cell based on its extensive milling automation experience. In order to fully realize the benefits of automation, SEW upgraded the cell with four Makino a71 horizontal machining centers, a second coordinate-measure machine, two additional pedestal robots, a second gantry robot and custom software to facilitate communications between new and existing equipment. Makino managed all aspects of the automated manufacturing system, including third-party equipment, the human-to-machine interface (HMI), process engineering, tooling and fixtures, and training.

Installation of the cell expansion was completed in less time than the initial three-month project timeline. Additionally, Makino made improvements to the efficiency and productivity of the original cell that now operates 24 hours a day, five days a week, producing 4,500 housings each week.

In 2013, SEW returned to Makino for design, development and installation of an all-new robotic system to help meet increasing production demands. The new system was comprised of six a81 horizontal machining centers, gantry and pedestal robots, a coordinate-measurement system, and a variety of complex part management technologies, including hydraulic fixtures, robot end-of-arm tooling, vision systems, 2-D matrix stamping, blow-off stations and a custom human-machine interface control system (HMI). Makino installed the cell within the projected timeline, enabling SEW to run parts from raw material to full completion fully unattended.


THE RESULTS
Since the first automated cell installation, production output at the SEW Lyman plant has grown tenfold with only a minor increase in manpower, which has led to improved product costs, improved efficiency and greater profitability.

Today the Lyman plant is known as the most efficient operation within SEW’s global network of manufacturing facilities, including its China operation. The Lyman plant currently produces more than 500,000 units per year, and nearly 80 percent of all products manufactured in Lyman are now being exported worldwide.

“Makino has earned our confidence, trust and loyalty. Any other supplier would have to work more than twice as hard to earn our business,” said Chuck Chandler, assistant plant manager at SEW Eurodrive.