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Furnace Loading Tool

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The Problem
During my previous co-op, we received an order to manufacture a new part. Operators had to be able to load multiple flat, rectangular parts in four stacks onto a square pusher plate. When loaded, the stacks only have
1/2" of clearance on each side. 

For the first run of these parts through the furnace, operators placed the parts freehand onto the pusher plate. They were unable to maintain the 1/2" of clearance and the
parts jammed in the furnace, leading to two weeks of downtime

The picture on the right shows a corner of the parts loaded on the pusher plate properly with the 1/2" of clearance.


The Solution


A design that fits around the pusher plate, with 1/2" spacers around three sides so operators can push the stacks into them to create the proper amount of space. Self closing spring hinges are used to attach the three sides together, so that it clamps around the pusher plate even when the operator isn't holding it. The hinges also allow the operator to remove the tool after loading the stacks without dislodging them.

Standard parts were used anywhere possible to allow for ease of assembly and manufacture, and the weight was around 5lbs which is easy to lift and work with during repetitive cycles throughout the day.

Design Process

Brainstorming and Prototypes
Many brainstorming sessions were conducted with peers, and I 3D modelled many potential prototypes using Solidworks. I then presented these prototypes to the engineering manager until we agreed on a design that met all of the requirements and constraints. See below rough videos and pictures of two of the prototype options. 

Prototype 1


Prototype 2

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Making Drawings
The next step was to create drawings for the custom made parts so they could be sent to vendors for quote requests. Press the button below for the custom part drawing package. 

Quote Requests and Part Ordering
My next job was to reach out to different vendors to request quotes and then compare prices and lead times via Excel spreadsheet to select the appropriate option. Once selected, the product order was submitted for the parts for one prototype to be created. 

Assemble the Tool and Conduct a Trial
The parts were received, and I assembled the tool successfully. I then performed a preliminary check on the plant floor to ensure it worked for many cycles. Once that was confirmed, I requested a temporary engineering change notice for one day to have operators, value stream leaders and managers use it with my guidance. The day was very successful and aside from a few minor suggestions, the design was chosen to be a permanent fix.

Create Standard Working Procedures and Train Operators
Since the tool was chosen to become permanent, I created Standard Working Procedures for exactly how to use the tool and load parts. After this was officially submitted into the company documentation, I trained or organized training for operators over all shifts.

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