n.9 – May 2016
Download the full news in PDF
Caleffi: full automation for the highest quality in component cleaning processes
Can the highest efficiency in cleaning processes be achieved while ensuring the highest quality of the product? If the experience of Caleffi, a notable Italian company founded in 1961 in Gozzano near Novara, is any indication, the answer is yes. All of Caleffi’s production facilities feature such a high degree of automation that production is carried out without the need for an operator, and maximum efficiency and quality are obtained through the use of the best raw materials and advanced technologies. Examples of these are the two new component washing machines using modified alcohols, designed and installed by IFP Europe Srl to meet the requirements for a higher quality of component cleaning while achieving a reduction in processing costs and times.
Caleffi Spa, a European leader in hydronic solutions, develops and produces components for heating, air conditioning and plumbing systems, heat metering systems and special components for renewable energy installations. Among these products are valves for radiators, safety valves right through to more complex systems such as distribution manifolds and thermostatic valves.
With over 1000 employees working at the Italian production units and foreign branches, Caleffi markets its products to over 70 countries and in 2015 recorded revenues of over 259 million Euros. The Group presently makes up 15 companies and 2 representative offices. It has three production facilities all located in Italy: Caleffi 1, the headquarters located in Fontaneto d’Agogna (Novara); Caleffi 2, which provides services to the Group (design and manufacture of moulds for hot forged brass; plastic injection moulds; design and manufacture of machine tools; design and construction of assembly machines); and Caleffi 3, located in Gattico (Novara), a highly automated factory for large-volume product lines specialised in the moulding of special technopolymers.
“Our company’s product range is very broad,” explains Giorgio Milan, director of Caleffi’s Operations Division. “Our catalogue includes over 6,000 finished items assembled with about 50,000 components.
We sell our products to large distributors as well as to the world’s largest OEM manufacturers of boilers and heating pumps.”
Efficient automation with quality cleaning
The span of the product range is also the result of the variety of alloys treated. “In factory 1, where we installed the two new washing machines, production starts with machining processes,” continues Milan. “In this department we machine especially brass in its many varied alloys, as well as bronze, steel or aluminium, starting with raw casting (hot forged) materials received from a company of the Group, or else start directly from the bars that are purchased externally. The processes are performed by means of automated systems, such as machining centres, transfer machines and single-spindle or multi-spindle lathes. In total, including assembly systems that intervene in the following phase, we have over 200 machines in the two production facilities.”
When machining is completed, the operator places the processed components inside stainless steel wire baskets that have been tailor-designed by Caleffi to suit their requirements. These metal baskets have a height of 110 mm or 200 mm and offer considerable advantages during the cleaning process.
“Because the surface where the parts are laid is small, the shavings are evacuated more easily and the components receive a more efficient treatment. The choice of this type of loading unit was recommended by IFP and it has proved important for improving washing efficiency,” continues Milan. “We have purchased 7,500 baskets for our production needs.”
The operator transports the baskets on a trolley to the entry of the washing area, which features a highly advanced automated handling system of the material. “For us, automation is a basic tool for increasing efficiency; to this end we identified and developed in-house the design solution for this system. Human intervention is reduced to operators needed for routine maintenance and cleaning quality control. “In addition, the system is set up to eliminate the future need to manually transport the pieces from the machining department to the entry of the system through implementation of an automated solution using laser-guided trolleys.”
At this point, the automated handling system organises the baskets in order to create homogeneous clusters for the washing programmes. The baskets have a bar code that matches them with the cleaning processes; a shuttle then picks them up and transports them to the washing machines.
“For us, cleaning is an extremely important activity that involves all machined components (Fig. 8),” says Milan. “And we need a very specific solution to wash them, which we were able to find thanks to IFP.”
A very high degree of cleaning is necessary: It is essential that the part is completely degreased and that the shavings are removed. The components also have to be treated gently to prevent knocks and denting that can affect their final quality or their conformity to specifications. “With the previous washing system, we had some critical situations we had to find an answer to,” states Milan. “The earlier system included three lines: A large primary line, along with an additional two lines, which were smaller. These washing systems used soap and water and consisted of several tanks in which the components were immersed via a Cartesian system. The problems stemmed mainly from the high operating costs due to a complex handling of the components and the needed labour, and by an insufficient cleaning quality which led to expensive reprocessing to obtain the required level of cleaning. Last, there were high volumes of water to dispose of and it wasn’t possible to recover the neat oil removed from the pieces.”
For these reasons, Caleffi started searching for a new solution, soon leading the company to IFP Europe Srl based in Cittadella (Padua, Italy) specialized in the production of industrial washing machines using modified alcohols. In May 2015, Caleffi installed two IFP washing machines, with 100% vacuum cycle and fitted with ultrasounds to treat the components that arrive from machining processes performed with neat oils.
The washing process
Components are first loaded automatically: the baskets transported by the shuttles are then placed inside the machines by means of a mechanical arm. The two machines operate in parallel, with cycles and programmes that differ according to the parts to be washed. “Cleaning cycles basically differ according to the way the parts are handled in the washing chamber,” explains Milan. “According to the components and their placement inside the baskets – either positioned or loose – washing can be performed statically via the tipping of the basket or with rotary movement, always in vacuum conditions and with the use of ultrasounds for a deeper cleaning and to fully remove the shavings. We have chosen to utilize small baskets that never weigh over 15 kg. These washing machines not only allow us to have a closed circuit system without effluents and with a very low consumption of alcohols thanks to the continuous distillation of modified alcohol, but also to recover all the neat oil and the removed shavings.”
After the parts are washed, the baskets are automatically picked up and transported to a small automated warehouse; when palletization is ready to take place, the baskets are sent to a fully robotized system consisting of three anthropomorphic robots that reorganise the material onto the pallets. “When the cleaned material is randomly arranged, before proceeding with the other downstream processes the handling system moves the components from the steel wire baskets into plastic containers,” explains Milan.
IFP’s solutions, claims Caleffi, have been able to meet the cleaning requirements of the company. “Compared to the previous system, we’ve been able to achieve the level of operating economy we were seeking and with the demanded quality,” continues Milan. “Cleaning product consumption has significantly decreased; we can recover the oils and we have no wastewater to dispose of. Above all, the cleaning quality has undoubtedly increased and we’re not forced to rewash parts any longer.” In addition, the capacity of the two machines was a positive point for Caleffi. “Although we have to wash 75 million parts per year, the machines, operating on two shifts, five days a weeks, use only 70% of their capacity. However, as of May 2016, the machining department has been reorganized to perform three shifts covering all 24 hours,” says Milan, “so we’ll soon be needing to add a third washing machine.”
“We chose the washing machines from IFP Europe because during our preliminary research the feedback we got from other IFP customers was extremely positive. At a year from installation we can state our total satisfaction, also when it comes to their reliability,” states Milan. “Their systems are relatively simple to use. What’s more, the company was very collaborative both when it came to small customizations, such as adapting the external part of the machines to handle the baskets to be loaded, and to our desire to boost monitoring of parameters. Today we also perform measurement of the surface tension to evaluate the degree of greasiness of the surface after washing. We are also working with IFP on the implementation of solutions that will enable additional control of specific aspects of the process to guarantee a consistent cleaning quality. Of course, these machines already have monitoring systems installed, but our quest for the highest quality possible motivates us to identify and exploit all the potentials.”
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT US
Below are some articles written by our customers and published in the sector publications, describing their activities and how their use of our vacuum washing equipment contributes to the quality of their products.