Student project could save Schaeffler £32,000 per year

13 December 2007

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Student project could save Schaeffler £32,000 per yearBy automating the process of chamfering a new high-volume ball bearing, a team of young engineers from Ysgol Gyfun Gŵyr School in Wales will help Schaeffler's manufacturing plant to save more than £32,000 per year. The engineering project was so successful that it was recently awarded the Best Innovative Solution award at the 2007 EESW (Engineering Education Scheme Wales) Work of Excellence exhibition.

The team comprised seven A-Level physics students and their teacher David Wheeler, working in close partnership with engineers at Schaeffler UK’s manufacturing plant in Bynea, Llanelli. The objective of the project was to design an automated process for chamfering a specific type of ball bearing manufactured at the Schaeffler plant. The existing process at Bynea was a manual one, with one operator dedicated to the operation.

Working to a brief, the team had to create a machine that would automate this task, thereby saving Schaeffler money by making the operation faster and more efficient. Factors the students had to consider included cost, productivity, health and safety, quality, reliability and process efficiency.

The final model, presented to a panel of Schaeffler staff, consisted of sloped tracks of low friction material so that gravity could be used to move the components to a pre-determined point where a pneumatic cylinder was moved the parts individually into the correct location for chamfering. To align the part and ensure that the chamfer tool locates correctly, a wheel-type mechanism was used to rotate the component. During the rotation process, two location dowels were raised by a spring in order to lock the part in the correct position, before the chamfering process commenced.

Rapid payback predicted

Not only was the system design very efficient – reducing the time taken for chamfering by 20 per cent – but it was also projected to save the plant more than £32,000 per year. Schaeffler UK was so impressed that a full-scale construction of the model is currently being manufactured at the Bynea plant.

The students chose the design because it had low running costs (based on a low power input) and a 10-20 per cent reduction in operation time. Payback time for the machine was expected to be just two months.

During their presentation to Schaeffler staff, the students also suggested further ways of improving the automated process. These included: using two rollers instead of a V-block; using a rippled plate sliding surface that would reduce friction; and incorporating a single circular finger location. These further improvements were expected to reduce processing times by more than 40 per cent, increasing productivity (parts per hour) by around 70 per cent, and cutting payback from two months to one month.

Jeff Guest, Maintenance/Development Manager at Schaeffler UK, was involved in supporting the students throughout the project. He comments: “We had to point the students in the right direction on a couple of occasions and ensure that they did not over-engineer the solution. But we were particularly pleased to see how the students tackled the engineering problems they were faced with. Their enthusiasm, interest and overall willingness to learn new skills was a delight to see and should serve them all well in their future careers.”

David Wheeler says: “I am extremely proud of the students. They have worked diligently over the last few months, giving up their spare time and lunch times in order to work on this project. This was their first attempt to compete at a national level. Even though there were more than 100 experienced teams competing, they won the most lucrative award. I would like to thank Schaeffler UK for its time, expertise and dedication over the last few months in helping the pupils achieve their goal. Not only did the students win the award, but they also gained new skills and it has opened up engineering as a career prospect.”

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