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ROBOTIC RESOURCES

GM Strengthens Competitive Grip with Decentralized Vacuum System

by A Case Study Featuring Dan Anfinson, Senior Manufacturing Project Engineer, General Motors Corporation
Robotic Industries Association

Automotive Manufacturer Embraces Energy Savings and Improved Performance

Dan Anfinson, senior manufacturing project engineer at General Motors, recognizes that competition is the driving force in today’s automotive industry. ‘‘Competitiveness has never been greater. In terms of manufacturing, this has driven two points of the four-point GM Turnaround Plan – to raise the bar on execution of new products, and to intensify our focus on cost and quality.’‘ 

When it comes to cost and quality, specifying a vacuum system can make a big difference for an automotive manufacturer. Because GM strives to benchmark and adopt technical best practices that can be applied worldwide, selecting the appropriate system to specify in its plants is vital.

A Firm Grasp on Safety and Performance
‘‘I needed a system that would function in harsh environments and provide a high level of performance and safety,’‘ states Anfinson. ‘‘Here, I saw a number of advantages in choosing a decentralized vacuum system over a centralized one.’‘

Performance can be enhanced with a decentralized system as it offers a great amount of flexibility. As additional product styles are included in a line at GM, a valve and the necessary cups to accommodate the new product are easily added. This is much more cost-effective and convenient than purchasing a new centralized pump each time.

Strong, continuous vacuum flow is another goal to consider when choosing a system. A centralized system with a damaged suction cup can cause a decrease in vacuum flow that may result in compromised grip. This creates downtime and decreases speed, which can be costly, affecting production and product quality. With vacuum being produced at each suction cup, a decentralized system will still retain a strong hold if some of the cups are damaged or line losses occur.

In regards to safety, Anfinson also saw major benefits. ‘‘Since the decentralized system is controlled by a two-position, detented valve, there is no need for an emergency state to engage with the loss of power like it would on a centralized system. The valve remains in the position it was last in when power was lost.’‘

Huge Savings with an 80+% More Efficient System
‘‘Air is the most expensive medium in a manufacturing environment,’‘ Anfinson says. ‘‘So along with safety and performance, I next look at efficiency, and then of course cost.  The decentralized vacuum system from PIAB is about 80+% more efficient than a centralized vacuum setup. This means that huge potential savings in air can be realized when we’re using that system.’‘

In 1996, GM initiated a formalized Facility Energy Conservation Program to increase emphasis on energy conservation. The company is dedicated to protecting human health, natural resources and the global environment, which means constantly improving the performance of its vehicles, as well as the processes used to manufacture them. This is why its facilities strive to conserve resources by using less energy, and another reason as to why a decentralized system made perfect sense.

Increased Up-time makes Vacuum a Keeper
GM has also recognized gains through improved setup and simple maintenance, as the setup for the decentralized system is very simplistic. ‘‘A centralized system has many adjustments that lead to confusion in setup and troubleshooting. The trades commonly play with the settings, not fully understanding what they are adjusting when vacuum faults occur.’‘ On the other hand, a decentralized system enhances troubleshooting with feedback at each suction cup, pointing operators directly to the faulty cup. 

‘‘With increased up-time and improved throughput possible with a decentralized system, I certainly don’t see vacuum going away,’‘ remarks Anfinson. ‘‘A robust vacuum solution remains important to our manufacturing competitiveness.’‘

Editor’s Note:
Ed McGovern, Vice President - Sales and Business Development, PIAB Vacuum Products, welcomes your questions and comments on the decentralized vacuum system supplied by PIAB at 800-321-7422 or email to
edmcg@piab.com. For more related Material Handling information and content, visit Robotics Online, Tech Papers.

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