We partnered with a Tier 1 North American automotive supplier to design and manufacture a series of innovative heavy duty hook fixtures for a first-of-its-kind automated overhead conveyor system.

The Challenge

Our client, one of the world’s largest suppliers of exterior auto components for carmakers like BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes, asked our Duluth, GA office help in an ambitious and unheard of project for North America: a multi-tiered automated overhead conveyor system.

Plastic Omnium Ferag Sketch 1

This system was vital to the client’s production processes and timing milestones. At the time, a system of this kind had never been used in the automotive industry. Housed in a brand new facility, this project would enable them to achieve the output of a two million square-foot facility in just 500,000 square-feet, radically reducing costs and transforming their business.

The Duluth team’s job was to create a solution for hanging fixtures that were strong enough to hold heavy bumpers and light enough to not exceed the maximum weight of the system. The solution also had to provide Class A protection for approximately sixty SKUs of varying shapes and weight, ensuring zero contact with metals and abrasive surfaces while in a static position or moving throughout the facility. On top of all that, there were ergonomic requirements to meet at points where workers loaded and unloaded parts.

This project was the first of its kind in North America.

The Solution

Over six months, the Duluth team made close to one hundred design revisions and went through fifteen rounds of prototyping different materials. They led a highly collaborative design process, providing project management for numerous reviews, calls, and onsite visits with the client and supply chain partners, all compressed into a shorter than usual timeline. The complexity of this project called for a wide range of Stephen Gould team members and subject matter experts, from design and engineering to manufacturing and quality assurance.

The final set of five designs were made with a unique combination of fabricated aluminum and polyurea-coated foam. While this is a common pairing of materials in packaging production, it is an uncommon pairing in a manufacturing context. The hook fixtures are unlike anything else in North American manufacturing.

Each hook can hold two to fifteen parts, which the conveyor system takes to be painted and cured. The system functions much like a giant dry cleaning rack, allowing the supplier to pull up the exact bumper needed when the manufacturer orders them.

The Result

In the first eighteen months of the program, we produced over 6,000 hooks. We handled all aspects of production, making quality control checks every step of the way, providing onsite adjustments as needed, and overseeing shipping to the client.

The hooks were a crucial component to the success of the conveyor system, which is revolutionizing automotive assembly. Our client hit their budget requirements and production timeline, while also reducing damage compared to previous processes. Since the facility opened, multiple competitors have announced plans to create overhead conveyor systems of their own.

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