ATM supplies appliance giant with pressure formers
What’s in the fridge? For a lot of GE Appliances refrigerators, it’s a liner made in an automated, four-station pressure forming machine from American Thermoforming Machinery Inc. (ATM), West Branch, Mich.
ATM is supplying two machines to a GE Appliances plant in Alabama after providing the company with two pieces of similar equipment for its Louisville, Ky., headquarters operation a few years ago. GE Appliances is to receive both machines by March, said ATM President Danny Blasch. GE Appliances, formerly part of General Electric Co., was purchased last year by Qingdao Haier Co., Qingdao, China.
The pressure formers in Kentucky are completely automated machines. “It will auto-load the parts, and auto-unload the parts,” Blasch said. “All they have to do is load pallets of sheet in there, and it’ll automatically pick them up. When the part is done, another part of the machine will pick the finished part up, send it on a conveyor, and from the conveyor it goes right to a trench station. So there’s no handling of the material whatsoever.”
The machines also include an automatic tool-changing system, which means that workers don’t need to get into the machines for any reason. “Nobody has to go in the machine to hook up any air lines, any water lines or vacuum lines,” Blasch said. “It’s all done automatically when they load a tool. So, it keeps the tool set-up person or the operator out of the machine when they do a tool change.”
The machines also feature an oven safety system. “If they have a sheet that happens to sag down too far, it will trip an [electronic] eye … which shuts the ovens off, and there’s no risk of fire,” he said. “It’s a pretty slick system. Fire is one of the biggest concerns in any of these plants.”
The machines ATM sold to GE Appliances in Louisville and the ones for the Alabama facility are basically the same, but the Alabama machines aren’t fully automated. “They just didn’t want robots for whatever reason down in Alabama,” Blasch said.
ATM made the machines specifically for GE Appliances, which has been hands-off, for the most part, as a customer. “What we have to do is, we have to use, of course, General Electric components,” he said. “That’s the only exchange as far as them telling us what we have to do. They just gave us the size that they wanted, and they liked what they saw in Louisville.”
While the machines were built specifically for GE Appliances, Blasch said other appliance makers are looking at them to see if they might have applications for their companies as well. Tubs and showers, for example, could be another application.
“It could be for all appliances. We think that this is going to open up the doors for [other applications]; it doesn’t matter what the part is, because you can put any tool in the machine and make any part. So, the machine isn’t specialized only for refrigerators. If somebody has a tool to do a door panel in a car, they could do a door panel also.”
The GE Appliances machine has a 4-foot-by-6-foot forming area, so the part must be that size or smaller. “They can do smaller refrigerators up to a certain size,” he said. “They could do the small ones like in dorms, your motels, up to a small refrigerator, like an apartment size.”
Blasch said ATM is comfortable not producing standard machines. “We are a small company, and we’re doing machines for some of the largest companies. It’s been a good thing.”
Allan Gerlat, correspondent
American Thermoforming Machinery Inc.,