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Michigan Manufacturer Solves Parts Identification Problem with Laser Marking Machine and Quick-Swap Fixture System

In business for over a hundred years, Armstrong International was finding that its identification labels were not holding up, creating problems when service or replacement was needed. So they searched, and found, a solution that has become a permanent fixture to their operation.

Continuous improvement is fostered in the culture at Armstrong International of Three Rivers, Michigan. The company's longevity -- more than 115 years in business -- is a reflection of this culture.

One recent improvement was made in the identification process for the stainless steel line of which tens of thousands of product variations totaling more than 115,000 parts are manufactured per year. The part marking process may seem like an insignificant step to examine, however in the case of Armstrong, not only has the improvement saved them countless dollars, it resulted in better service for their customers.

The highly accurate, quick-swap concept of Laser Arsenal's Loc-N-Load™ fixture plates enables Armstrong's employees to changeover in a very short time and keep their machine coordinates static.



Founded by the Armstrong family in1900, Armstrong International is a private, fifth-generation family-owned company. As manufacturers, their extensive product line provides intelligent solutions in steam, air, and hot water for a variety of industries. Throughout The Great Depression, two world wars, and multiple recessions, Armstrong International continued to evolve, expand and thrive. Today, their global enterprise has more than 3,000 employees and representatives serving the world.

Armstrong employees discovered that over time, the labels that identify their parts were not holding up under harsh conditions. Parts were difficult to identify for service and replacement many years later. The solution was to purchase a large capacity laser marking machine to etch information permanently.

Given the extraordinary volume and variety, Zac Findlay, Senior Manufacturing Engineer at Armstrong knew the process would not be complete -- or investment maximized -- without a way to fixture the parts.

Through an online search, John Schneider, Lead Manufacturing Engineer found a ready-made, quick-swap solution perfect for their applications. They purchased a sampling of Laser Arsenal™ Loc-N-Load™ fixture plates to test his idea.

"Our sample worked so well that we ended up purchasing twenty-five plates that accept five different fixture types. This allows us to use the same machine coordinates every time making setup and part swap fast and easy," according to Findlay.

It only takes about a minute to change out all five fixture plates to run a different part.



In order to start with the LEANest process, the laser machine and new fixturing were integrated into Armstrong's ERP system as soon as it hit the shop floor. This way, the operator can simply scan the work order to display the part program which then prompts to load the associated fixture A, B, C, D, or E. To change-over jobs, operators quickly and easily un-click the fixture, swap in a new fixture and hit run.

Parts are nested in machined plastic blocks that are affixed to Loc-N-Load™ plates. To make the process even more visual, fixtures are identified by their numbers and etched with associated part model numbers.

"The highly accurate, click-to-lock and quick-to-swap concept of Loc-N-Load™ fixture plates and docking rails allow us to changeover in a very short amount of time and keep machine coordinates static. We also built an extension onto the side of the machine to house our rotary indexer. We affixed that to a large plate that quickly locks into place when a job requires and just as quickly removed and set aside," added Findlay.

"We are very happy with the combined solution of our new laser machine and the Loc-N-Load™ fixture system. The fixturing, in particular, allows us the flexibility to run any number of unique parts per hour without lengthy setup and changeover time. It takes about a minute to change all five plates out to run a different part. With two operators, and the volume of parts marked the system will pay for itself very quickly."

More permanent product identification will also save time for customer service and technicians in the future.

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Laser Arsenal/Fixture Up

Armstrong International

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