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Creative, convenient and customisable ways to reconfigure power supply are key to any lean manufacturing operation

uec_bus_automotiveFrom conventional cars and electric engines to state-of-the-art intelligent vehicles, it is indisputable that the next decade will continue to test the automotive industry’s ability to satisfy customers’ expectations. Success and growth at the manufacturing level, however, must be supported by creative ways to rearrange and redistribute power supply throughout the production process. Using traditional power distribution methods, this electrical adjustment can involve high labour costs, complicated scheduling and potential downtime.

The ability to quickly reconfigure a production floor layout can drastically reduce disruption to manufacturing operations. Moreso, power flexibility eliminates variation and waste; a key aim of any lean-thinking philosophy in the automotive manufacturing environment. With that in mind, engineers with Starline Track Busway, a product line of Pennsylvania-based power management company Universal Electric Corporation, have developed a flexible busway power distribution system that builds on three simple factors: reliability, flexibility, and adaptability.

Flexible track buswayStarline’s design consists of a simple, maintenance-free, compact busway run that includes an extruded aluminium housing. The grounded housing contains factory-mounted insulated conductors made from solid copper or hybrid material for optimal conductivity from 40 to 1,200 amps. The busway is supplied in customisable lengths of up to 6 metres (20ft) which allows faster overhead installation, requires fewer mounting hangers and optimises its transportation due to its light weight.

An extended array of power feed units, T-shaped and elbow joints, etc., makes power distribution flexibility possible and applicable for both new and existing facilities. Whether it is for a vehicle assembly line, work cell area, machine shop or office space lighting, power access can be reconfigured quickly and easily.

Deploying flexible busway systems provides immediate and future monetary savings in installation compared with conventional systems

Deploying flexible busway systems provides immediate and future monetary savings in installation compared with conventional systems

Plug-and-play customisable unitsA crucial design element is the finger-safe continuous access slot running along the base of the system, where plug-and-play units can be positioned at any point. Each plug-in unit has a simple paddle-head connector that can be safely inserted then turned 90 degrees for full engagement. The plug-in unit can include an electrical cord terminated with a connector or receptacle, depending on the application requirement of voltage and amps. In contrast with conventional systems, this feature allows overhead access eliminating the need of connecting multiple electrical cords that typically end up scattered around the production floor, creating hazardous working conditions.

The patented U-shaped design of the solid copper bus bar creates constant tension with the paddle connector, which in turn ensures a continuous, reliable connection. In the case of an assembly line the busway run can be hundreds or thousands of feet/meters in length providing endless power access points optimal for engineering changes, quality improvements, or model changeovers.

There are unlimited combinations of voltages, amps, circuit breaker protectors, outlet units, drop cords, fused disconnects, terminal blocks, meters, etc., that can be configured into the plug-in units. By simple permutations, the total number of different possible combinations exceeds 60m. In addition, the T5-type paddle-head connector offers a design that is interchangeable with systems from 250 to 1,200 amps, adding simplicity and savings to the operation. This adaptability is fully applicable in automation, by supplying power to robots, chassis assembly, paintshop process, powertrain assembly, conveyors, work stations, etc.

Power monitoringThe need for phase load balancing and total load tracking are critical in the automotive process. With Starline M40 and M50 metering devices, immediate feedback is obtained through digital displays installed at the plug-in receptacle or power feed units. Power and energy measurements are captured instantaneously, providing the granular data necessary to make informed decisions such as enabling phase balancing as needed. Considering maintenance personnel can perform the relocation of plug-in units in minutes to balance the load, this translates into third party electrical contractor labour savings.

Remotely, parameters may be read via an integrated web page. Facility managers can access the information available through BMS or DCIM solutions, considering the serial and Ethernet-based communications operate simultaneously.

Installation cost savingsStarline Track Busway systems provide immediate monetary advantages in terms of installation savings. With conventional power distribution, production floor layout redesigns typically involve conduit, wire, junction boxes, and multiple and convoluted homeruns to the panelboard. The installation of traditional systems is labour intensive in nature, and very costly. In some scenarios – depending on dimensions – the installation of conventional pipe and wire to feed a circuit board printing machine, for instance, is so prolonged that it can take up to an additional seven days of labour in comparison with a track busway system.

Starline busway provides continuous, finger-safe power access slots throughout the run, where plug-and-play units can be positioned at any point Starline busway provides continuous, finger-safe power access slots throughout the run, where plug-and-play units can be positioned at any point

Conventional power distribution systems do not offer the flexibility that the automotive sector requires for its ever changing market. It is estimated that the total costs to add a new circuit in an existing facility ranges from $1,200 to $2,200. The estimated costs do not account for associated downtime nor opportunity costs. Furthermore, scheduling for the installation of traditional systems can require notification weeks in advance. Starline flexible busway systems, on the other hand, are maintenance-free, reduce labour and material costs by more than 75%, and requires a few minutes for changes to be performed.

Kaizen event + flexible power = efficiencyFlexible power solutions have proven to contribute significantly to kaizen events. Consider a scenario where a kaizen event is put together to relocate a heavy piece of equipment from point A to point B for process improvement purposes within a manufacturing facility. The clever mechanical design of the plug-in units enables kaizen team members to safely unplug the power supply unit and relocate it along with the piece of equipment to the new desired location – in a matter of minutes. The event reduces downtime, ie. waste, by as much as 95%. This benefit magnifies itself, considering that most kaizen events last anywhere between three to five days. In this case, a track busway system eliminates two of the costliest factors of the equation: the need to allocate a significant amount of time to perform conventional electrical work and, most critically, potential production downtime. To sum it up, power flexibility eliminates variation and waste.

Today more than ever, automotive manufacturers and suppliers require lean, safe and efficient methodology to perform model changeovers without disrupting production. OEMs such as GM, BMW, Toyota, Ford, Honda and others have already chosen Starline Track Busway to power their facilities. More importantly, they have enjoyed its flexibility and reliability and foresee installing it in other facilities in the near future. Having achieved success in markets such as automotive, datacenter, mission critical applications, retail, education and bio-tech, Starline continues its strong commitment to innovative products and solutions that deliver safe, reliable power and solve common problems among a diverse set of industries.