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May/June Feature

Design Engineering:
UPG’s Plastic Gears Integral
in the Automotive Peda
l Process

United Plastics Group’s Minneapolis facility is a full-service injection molder, using its design engineering and expert tooling capabilities to manufacture plastic gears for the automotive and electronic industries.

By Chad Sypkens

The 120 employees at the Industrial Division of United Plastics Group in Minneapolis, MN., follow a policy: “Business Success by Satisfying Customer Needs Through Quality, Service, Productivity.”

Quality, service and productivity enabled the 72,000-square-foot injection molding plant to produce $17 million in sales in 2000. The sales breakout is 40 percent automotive and 60 percent electronic and consumer industrial markets.

“UPG Minneapolis is part of the Industrial Group of United Plastics Group,” says Tom Opielowski, general manager. “Each facility of UPG has a specific niche market but also serves other markets as well. We have been producing plastic gears for 15 years. UPG Minneapolis made plastic gears its main focus three years ago and has expended many hours enhancing our gear knowledge. Our gear customers have recognized these efforts with additional programs being awarded to UPG.”]\

Twin Cities Capabilities

The Minneapolis facility currently has 500 active molds running in 46 presses, ranging in size from 50 to 390 tons. The press manufacturers are Van Dorn, Toshiba, Nissei and Boy, with the majority being Van Dorns and Toshibas. The in-house tooling department has experience working on hot runner, 2- and 3-plate molds, insert molds, specialized hydraulic core pulls and un-screwing molds.

The experienced engineering staff, with on-site tool and mold making knowledge and a large array of corporate resources, fits together to satisfy an increasing number of customer requests for technical support from design inception to production release. UPG Minneapolis has a base of customers that includes Delta Faucet, Lexmark, Valeo, Canon Virginia, Amway, VDO and Teleflex, to name a few.

An active member in the American Gear Manufacturers Assn. (AGMA), UPG Minneapolis is currently assisting with document revisions, which will help the plastic industry communicate with designers not having the detailed knowledge required when designing plastic gears.

The different types of gears produced include straight spur, helical spur, worm and bevel gears made with nylon, acetals, polyest
Shown above is a wide variety of gears, housings and transmission components, all designed, molded and assembled by UPG Minneapolis.
er and other types of engineering grade polymers for both internal and external applications.

Their in-house design capabilities assist customers with upfront recommendations and solutions for single or multiple gear packages that will be meshing with gears made out of plastic, steel or other materials. With its knowledge of gears and gear trains, UPG Minneapolis is also able to help customers with complete gear actuators and housing designs as well as recommend various engineering grade resins based upon the customer’s use of a part.

The gears UPG produces are used in automotive applications, including power windows, power seats, wiper motors and environmental controls, and in-office equipment for cartridges, paper movement and agitators.

UPG’s 14 plants worldwide have capabilities including cleanroom molding and assembly, inset molding, micro-molding, structural foam molding, in-mold decoration, gas assist, Mu-cell, two-shot molding, precision molded gears, pad printing, painting and shielding.

Internally Designed Software System

In 1998, a computerized manufacturing system (wIN-Control) was implemented to monitor both quality and production of all floor activities, tracking every part that a mold produces. Some of the capabilities of wIN-Control include: inspection data, statistical process control, cycle counting, defect tracking, machine utilization, material usage and a full range of other quality and production efficiency reports.

“WINControl is our computer integrated manufacturing software that was designed and developed internally by our Anaheim facility,” says Opielowski. “It is what we monitor our processes with and our shop floor. We integrated the software three years ago and are able to continually upgrade the system with new technology.

“We are going through a massive upgrade right now with new databases, which is the reason why we developed wIN-Control in the first place, so we can customize it and tailor it to fit our specific needs.

In 2000, UPG Minneapolis developed an automation department to handle increased product handling demands. One such system, built in-house, incorporates the use of servo robots, conveyors and the poka yoke system. This unit was designed specifically to inspect and package gears.

Adjustable Pedal Mount Problem Solved

The adjustable pedal program began at UPG when a company that specializes in pedal assemblies designed the first-of-its-kind gear transmission to adjust the gas and brake pedals forward and back for the drivers comfort.

“When they took their finished product to Ford, it didn’t meet their expectations due to major noise problems and operating inefficiencies,” says Opielowski. “Car manufacturers are very critical, especially in relation to interior noise in cars. That’s when they came to us for help.”

UPG Minneapolis’ gear engineer, Anthony Padden, analyzed the gear transmission and found several problems. Within a short four-week time frame, the whole transmission was redesigned, including the gears and housing, and UPG received customer approval for the new design and the successful
Forty-six molding presses ranging from 50 to 390 ton, fill UPG Minneapolis’ 72,000-square-foot injection molding plant.
modification of the production molds to meet the new specifications.

"The transmission was quieter than the driving electric motor which made Ford very happy,” says Opielowski. “This program has led us into the production of the next generation of transmission.

“With this confidence in our capabilities, they now come to us with their applications, giving us the input speeds and output torque. We design the gears and the housing to handle the job. This includes prototyping, building production tools, molding, assembly, and supplying them with a complete sub-assembly. We are now their primary molder and are involved in the development of their latest gear transmission programs,” Opielowski adds.

"The second generation of gear transmissions is almost complete,” continues Opielowski. “We are at the final stages before we start the production tools.”

With the wealth of knowledge UPG Minneapolis has, including in-house expertise and the ability to perform consistently, it has become the supplier of choice for difficult gear application and molding solutions, Opielowski adds.

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