With the accelerating pace of change sweeping through manufacturing in Australia, factories built today must be safety-aware plus designed to accommodate changes required of them tomorrow.
With this in mind, advanced metals and plastics engineering organisation, the Locker Group , recently combined three of its previous plants in Melbourne into one 7,000m2 central plant in Dandenong designed to respond rapidly and flexibly to the demands of national and export customers.
“To get the best out of multi-million dollar investments in modern factories it is not enough to perform outstandingly in jobs we have to handle today.
“You not only have to achieve top efficiency now, but also you also have to design for flexible manufacturing horizons 10 and 20 years out - because change is one of the few certainties in Australian industry today,” said Locker manufacturing engineer Jason Cassar.
Locker’s new plant, opened this year by the Victorian Minister for Manufacturing and Export, Andre Haermeyer, employs 120 people making products ranging from perforated and expanded metal architectural and building fittings and features, through to wire mesh conveyor belt and materials handling systems.
Plant layout is configured so machinery, staff and resources can be redeployed to different areas at short notice, or particular areas expanded to cope with rising demand for items most needed at particular times. The theme of commitment to manufacturing excellence and flexibility is carried over into office design and standarisation of management systems.
“From the finest to the broadest details – such as our siting along Melbourne’s South-Eastern corridor to slash travel times and reduce traffic congestion – we are future-focussed,” says Cassar, whose future engineering has extended to the reticulation systems carrying the compressed air and process water that are the lifeblood of many machinery processes.
These services have been located conveniently out of harm’s way (where they are not a safety hazard) in a system of 600mm deep sub-surface conduits, complemented, in the case of compressed air, by overhead suspension systems where they don’t obstruct cranes and bulky equipment employed in metal and plastics processing. A network of such conduit systems has been built into the plant to cater for present and future needs.
Central to the compressed air and water reticulation systems is the Australian-engineered Calair polymer piping system, which is one eighth the weight of galvanised steel equivalents and will never rust. The polymer system – which is colour-coded for safety so individual pipeline contents can be clearly identified – is easily installed and easily altered. Because of its high insulation values, it is less prone to internal condensation resulting from changes in ambient temperatures. Moisture in pipelines was an issue with previous galvanized systems.
The new system is also totally recyclable. Cassar says the ongoing energy efficiency of the compressed air system is enhanced by the pipeline’s low-friction, permanently smooth internal bores. The benefits of this smoothness are complemented by the ring configuration of the 590m main pipeline carrying compressed air to individual drops serving particular tools or workstations.
Like the 590m ring main for water, the circular mains system does not contain any sharp turns or dead ends to obstruct flows and impose a greater load than necessary on the compressor or pumps. This saves energy, because the compressor or pump does not have to work harder to push its load past obstacles.
To allow for future growth, Locker deliberately overspecified the 32mm (Calair A4) internal diameter of the compressed air pipeline, so more air can be delivered through it without excessive back pressure to the Cash Engineering T50 50hp compressor, which delivers air at 110 kpa.
Further energy savings were achieved in the factory by use of a PLC-controlled automated lighting system known as C-bus. Using lighting sensors and automated on-off switching, excessive lighting is automatically turned off on a sunny day and turned on during a dark day, maintaining a constant 400 lux lighting level and safe working conditions.