Rebuild and relocate

Feb. 1, 1999
Besides rebuilding and remanufacturing complete automotive transfer lines, one company also takes on the monumental task of moving them—even overseas.

Besides rebuilding and remanufacturing complete automotive transfer lines, one company also takes on the monumental task of moving them—even overseas.

Over 800 containers house five complete manufacturing systems. They once occupied a shop floor in Austria, but were moved by Vogtland GmbH lock, stock, and barrel to an automotive plant in Brazil.

Preparing the receiving plant is the key to a smooth relocation project. Vogtland first established a floor plan and dug machine foundations in the Brazil plant. It then began moving in the lines.

In addition to repairing or replacing components, Vogtland had to switch over machine electrical systems to run on the Brazil plant's 60 Hz output. The transfer lines ran on 50 Hz in Austria.

After getting all five manufacturing systems to Brazil successfully, Vogtland had to verify that the machines would hold the same tolerances and cycle times they did in Austria.

Typical projects at Vogtland GmbH of Plauen, Germany, usually involve designing, building, and remanufacturing automotive transfer lines. But lately, in addition to these services, the company has been relocating whole lines from one plant to another. Vogtland's biggest project to date is one that put forth the challenge of moving 39 transfer lines along with special purpose machine tools (five complete manufacturing systems) from Austria to a GM plant in Brazil.

Prior to this project, most jobs consisted of remanufacturing and relocating lines between East Germany (when it existed) and Russia or China. The company also did work for VW, Daimler Benz, Ford, Opel, and BMW in Western Germany. This experience, says Managing Director Dr. Hans Ulrich Golz, earned Vogtland a reputation for being a competent single-source company for rebuilding, remanufacturing, and relocating transfer lines.

Head 'em up, move 'em out
When Vogtland personnel entered the automotive plant in Aspern, Austria, a cylinder block line (15 machines), bearing cap line for crankshafts (2 machines), cylinder head line (12 machines), camshaft support line, and a connecting rod line were all up and running.

First on the to-do list was defining the project with the customer. This meant determining all the jobs involved and who would be responsible for each one.

Basically, Vogtland had to do everything except load the machines onto the boat, handle customs, and truck the cargo from the shipyard to the final destination.

After this planning stage, the lines were disassembled a nd m a d eready for the journey . Vogtland packed all five manufacturing lines into about 800 wood and steel cartons. The company then cleaned up the original plant and turned its attention to preparing the Brazil plant in São José dos Campos.

Once there, Vogtland workers cleaned, repaired, and rebuilt a number of line components, such as lights and relays. Some machines were remanufactured, so the lines could run a new engine design. Also, electrical systems needed changed to handle the new plant's 60 Hz output—lines had been running on 50 Hz in Austria. In all, about 10% of the job was rebuilding.

The key to a smooth relocation, says Golz, is to make sure the receiving plant is ready before cartons start arriving. For example, coolant systems must be in place and machine foundations dug. Then the focus shifts to re-establishing the lines' original operating conditions. What the lines did in Austria, they had to do in Brazil. This meant the same part accuracy and quality at the same or better cycle times, and Vogtland guaranteed both for all five lines.

In Austria, one line completely machined an engine block in 30 sec. This production level was the same for the other four lines (one part/30 sec), except for the connecting rod line. It put out four complete parts every 30 sec.

At their new home, the lines were repainted and reinstalled. Vogtland then tested all the machines by running parts and verified that they were at the same or better tolerances and cycle times. Company personnel then stayed for the official startup to help train operators on the lines.

One line, five lines, a whole plant
"The biggest challenge of the Brazil project," says Golz, "was the sheer massiveness of the lines, boxes, and logistics. Just locating the right machine at the right time had a major impact on how smoothly the operation went."

Fortunately for the parties involved, this wasn't the first time Vogtland moved a transfer line overseas. Two years ago, the company remanufactured and relocated (also to Brazil) one complete cylinder block line. That line got new controllers, hydraulics, and pneumatics, while various line components were remanufactured for part-design changes and to conform to the latest labor protection and safety regulations.

Originally running in Germany, it cranked out 1,800 pieces/ day (three shifts) at a 30-sec cycle time. Stations included 16 transfer machines, two washing machines, two units for leakage check, and one assembly machine. Vogt-land began dismantling in June 1995 and reassembled up to October 1996.

"This project gave us the confidence to tackle the five-line job, says Golz. "With both projects under our belts, we now feel that relocating an entire plant would be no problem." He goes on to say that there are other remanufacturers able to handle one or two whole manufacturing lines, but none doing five lines at one time or entertaining the thought of moving an entire plant.

Going global

Prior to German reunification, 90% of Vogtland's market share was in the Soviet Union. After East and West Germany again became one, this market broke down, and wages skyrocketed. Adding to this, the machine tool industry was doing poorly.

These conditions put a tremendous strain on the newly privatized Vogtland. It needed to expand, but found it was hard to break into new automotive markets by just selling machines. This is when Dr. Hans Ulrich Golz joined the management staff and began restructuring the company for the global market. His first move was to take advantage of the company's remanufacturing, retrofitting, and rebuilding expertise to gain access to new automotive markets.

As part of the plan, Vogtland's field of activities now includes remanufacturing all machine makes as well as specials; machine building, which entails transfer lines, special purpose machines, standard units, multispindle turrets, and clamping fixtures; and contract manufacturing, which involves large-scale parts manufacturing, prototype production, and even hardening or surface finishing. The company's growing trade and service activities are turnkey projects, machine consulting, joint ventures, and relocation of machines and facilities.

In addition, says Golz, the company plans to "operate in the customer's backyard" by offering service through local partners. Some of these relationships are already under way in Brazil, Great Britain, Scandinavia, China, Mexico, France, and the U.S. All of which the company expects will shoot export revenues past the 50% mark. In the U.S., Vogtland is partnered with IPM Precision Inc. in Barrington, Ill.

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