On the western shore of Lake Michigan, between Chicago and Milwaukee, is Racine, WI. Founded in 1834, Racine takes its French name (les racines) from the abundance of tangled roots once found along the banks of the Root River winding through the area. Today, this Dairyland community is famous for red barns, church steeples, and fishing tournaments — including the Salmon-A-Rama, where thousands of fishermen from compete every year to lure the “big one.”

Racine is also home to one of the largest, oldest, and most successful manufacturers in America, Case IH Corp. Founded by Jerome Increase Case in 1842, the J.I. Case Co. (as it was known then) gained considerable recognition as the first builder of steam engines for agricultural use. For a time, J. I. Case manufactured more threshing machines and steam engines than any other company in history. Operating several domestic and international manufacturing facilities, the Case IH Corp. is recognized now as a global leader in manufacturing agricultural and construction equipment.

The Case IH Foundry plant at Racine has produced gray-iron castings for transmission housings, axle housings, and PTO housings for 97 years. These components are used to house tractor drive assemblies in agricultural and construction equipment offered under the Case IH brand.

The Racine Foundry is also noted for its cupola furnace. The cupola, with a melting capacity of 40-45 tons per hour, offers the fastest melting method available.


Manufacturing excellence

With a worldwide enterprise like Case IH, the organization’s production managers are challenged constantly to maintain product and process quality. Case IH is an ISO-certified manufacturer now, but consistent quality has been hallmark for over 161 years. Operators throughout the organization, including at Racine, have learned what it takes to maintain the highest level of quality.

One method for ensuring consistent product quality was adopting the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) standard. “The PPAP applies to all production and service commodities,” said Guy Korponai, manager of maintenance for the Case IH Foundry at Racine. “Whether components are produced internally by OEM manufacturers, or supplied by outside suppliers, PPAP will ensure that all engineering design specifications are met,” Korponai said. “The process is designed to produce materials that meet those requirements during an actual production run. This is just one of the quality standards we employ here in our plant.”


Reliable equipment

The selection of reliable and durable production equipment is another way Racine Foundry ensures quality. While much of it is proprietary in design, due to the unique nature of the foundry’s casting process, all of it must be kept in top operating condition at all times. “We are very aware of the connection between production efficiency and product quality,” Korponai said. “Our standard for success, the quality of our castings, depends on production equipment efficiency.”

“No production plant, even ours, can withstand downtime for too long,” said Russ Milner, a journeyman millwright with over 30 years experience and the man most responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of Racine Foundry’s equipment. “The absence of just one cog in the wheel, due to downtime, could bring our entire operation to a halt. That is why it is essential for us to have reliable production-line equipment.”

Yet, not everything lasts forever. Recently, Milner pulled the foundry’s axle-housing grinder unit offline for repair and maintenance — a unit that has been in continuous service since 1997. Grinding transmission, axle, and PTO housings creates gray-iron waste fragments that must be collected and removed from the machining area. This is done by an internal conveying system, the Model 850 transporter supplied by Vibro Industries. Scrap is removed (or “transported”) away from the machine along a product tray (or chute) fitted to the Model 850. This process eliminates scrap build-up and the interference with efficient finishing operations that build-ups cause.

The Vibro transporter is designed around a pneumatic cylinder design that operates on low air pressure to move trays back and forth at high speed, causing the material to steadily and quietly advance in one direction. On the slow-accelerated forward stroke, material is transported forward. During the rapid return-stroke, material remains stationary, thus ensuring constant movement in one direction.

Milner is particularly satisfied with the way the transporter has performed. “Our Model 850 has worked eight hours per day, five days per week during production,” Milner explained. Because of the grinding operations at Racine Foundry, the Model 850 is exposed to minute airborne iron particles on a daily basis. This grit finds its way into sleeve and bearing compartments inside machine tools, wearing down performance and reducing machine life. “In spite of this abrasive environment, our Model 850 has operated without fail ever since it was installed seven years ago,” Milner said.

Prior to the installation of the foundry’s axle housing grinder, scrap removal was performed manually. “The Model 850 Transporter has eliminated the need for additional manpower, saving us time and money,” Milner explained.


Fast service, and back to work

“With the grinder offline, the transporter will be returned to Vibro for refurbishing,” said Milner. Depending on the amount of wear and tear, most factory-rebuilt units are returned to their customers within just several days. The life expectancy of factory rebuilt units is equal to new models. Vibro warrants both new and refurbished models for two years.

In addition to being an integral component of the foundry’s axle housing grinder, Vibro transporters can be found in a variety of conveying applications in manufacturing operations worldwide. Vibro offers four transporter models that provide distinct benefits over conventional belt conveyors. First, they are compact in profile, so they can be installed easily in tight spaces; this makes them an excellent choice for removing scrap from beneath machine tools. Second, they carry a big punch in a very small package. The Model 850 weighs only 47 lb (21.3 kg), yet it can move more than 500 lb (227 kg) of load and 100 lb (45 kg) of tray weight with just 3.4 CFM (certification testing was performed by an independent testing lab with equipment that complies with ASME Std. MFC -18M [2001]) air consumption (certified at half the air consumption of other models).

Multiple trays can be mounted to a single unit, thus replacing several conventional belt conveyors. And, every model provides accurate control over the rate of travel speed (Model 850 offers variable speed control from 15 to 40 ft/min.)


Value, reliability and serviceability

Leroy Johnson, president of Vibro Industries, introduced the transporter in 1985. Vibro transporters are adaptable to existing production lines and can transport a range of materials quietly and efficiently, without the downtime typically required for clean-up and repair attributed to ordinary belt conveyers. Best of all, today’s Model 850 transporters cost no more than their 1994 counterparts, providing exceptional value.

Guy Korponai appreciates the value behind the Model 850. “Cost, reliability, and serviceability is the most important criteria in selecting production-line equipment here at Case IH,” Korponai explains. “Vibro transporters run on air pressure alone. Air pressure costs less to generate. Sound is also an issue, and these units operate very quietly. Our Vibro unit has been in service for seven years, so it’s certainly reliable,” he said. And, though Korponai says he would prefer having a factory repair facility nearby, he values Vibro’s three-day refurbishment service.

Vibro offers a complete line of air-operated transporters that suit manufacturers various needs for almost any load application. In addition to the Model 850 in use at Racine, the Model 250 is designed for lighter loads of up to 30 lb at 35 PSI - 0.7 CFM; the Model 320 carries a total of 85 lb at 35 PSI - 0.6 CFM; and the Model 450 can move a total capacity of 170 lb at 35 PSI - 0.4 CFM.

Korponai believes Vibro transporters would be good choice for Case IH’s other manufacturing plants, and recommends them to other production managers. “Depending on the application, I’m quite sure that it could be adapted,” he said.