TranTek Automation Helps Water Heater Company Keep Manufacturing in the United States

Tran Tek, November 29, 2012

Of the nation's makers of residential and commercial water heaters, Bradford White Corporation is the only one that manufactures all of its products in the United States. To remain competitive, Bradford White was faced with the decision to stay in Michigan or seek a better competitive advantage elsewhere. The company chose to remain in Michigan, expanding and reinvesting in its Middleville, Michigan facility. With overwhelming support from company management, and state and local government, the company began an aggressive, multi-year plan for growth. With an emphasis on robust design and reliability, and to address its current and future equipment needs, Bradford White turned to TranTek Automation in Traverse City, Michigan.

In order to maintain and improve productivity and overall performance, the company places a strong emphasis on the elimination of unscheduled downtime and reduction in changeover time. "Especially during periods of peak demand, unexpected downtime is costly, and can have a detrimental effect on our ability to serve our customer. The flexibility to perform changeovers quickly allows us to better meet our customer's product needs. We are all about the customer," says Director of Manufacturing Engineering, Mike McLellen.

For TranTek that meant addressing efficiencies in three areas: material handling (both upstream and down), automated welding, and tank assembly. Bradford White has a multitude of product models ranging in many different diameters and lengths, and often does limited small runs of specific models. Accommodating all of these various sizes, and minimizing changeover downtime put the automation team to the test. The solution was to design and build a flexible, extremely robust automation system that would withstand the rigorous demands of production but also introduce "part buffering" between processes. That means any single machine or operator issue would not have a significant effect on the overall production work stream. Along with upgrading the mechanical components, state-of-the-art control systems were implemented. Regular-scheduled maintenance cycles could then be coordinated with part changeovers to keep production humming along at the rate of a finished water heater every 15 seconds.

The Bradford White Corporation's manufacturing and product design facility in Middleville, Michigan has over 1,000 employees working across three shifts. Here, the company produces thousands of water heaters each day, shipping product throughout the United States, Canada and many other countries around the world.

TranTek Automation Corporation has designed and engineered a multitude of automation applications, handling products weighing less than an ounce to others weighing over a thousand pounds. Founded in 1986, TranTek specializes in designing and manufacturing of automation systems including robotic integration, automated assembly, automated welding, and automated material handling systems for the automotive, manufacturing, appliance, and defense industries.

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