GE - Aviation, a leading global producer of jet engines for civil and military aircraft, previously used large batch vacuum furnaces for superalloy brazing, heat treating and chemical vapor deposition (CVD) coating. But the problems associated with the batch furnaces – large size, lack of quality control and poor efficiency – led them to search for a better way to meet lean, continuous flow manufacturing requirements. For example, the batch furnaces require significant WIP- in some cases several days worth - prior to having enough parts to justify running the large furnace.
The company purchased several GH IA induction heating vacuum furnaces to replace their batch vacuum furnaces. "We're highly focused on lean manufacturing”, said David Budinger, Senior Engineer for GE - Aviation. “With the VF-20 vacuum furnace as a key component of our production cell, we've been able to convert to small batch flow resulting in a 96% reduction in turn around time. This new technology works so well the payback on the capital expense was less than two years and we are currently leveraging the technology throughout the supply chain.”
GE - Aviation found that the VF-20 reaches operating temperature in minutes instead of hours. And with advanced induction heating technology, individual or small batches of engine parts can be heated with accuracy and consistency. The compact 5'x5' footprint of the GH IA system allows GE to install the units in work cells on the manufacturing floor, further improving production flow. The new furnaces have the flexibility to heat a variety of part sizes and shapes, including “orphans” from other heating processes. Additionally GH IA’s furnace is over 85% energy efficient vs. about 50% for standard industrial vacuum furnaces.
Magnum Shielding of Pittsford, NY needed an alternative way to braze component parts for a new product line for its customer, Harley Davidson. Traditional bench brazing was not feasible due to the part finishing requirements.
GH IA worked with Magnum to determine if a turnkey induction heating system could perform the required brazing and meet the finishing requirements. Preliminary tests showed that the parts could be brazed in GH IA's equipment and meet Magnum's requirements. These early tests also showed that the required brazing could be performed with significant energy and cost savings over traditional batch furnace brazing methods.
Due to the large potential energy savings, Magnum and GH IA received funds from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to help fund the research and development of the induction heating system. After the preliminary tests were completed, GH Induction Atmospheres developed a specialized induction-based machine to Magnum's specifications, to efficiently braze the component parts. This machine yields low cycle times and consumes energy only on an as-needed basis to fulfill the downstream requirements, which is inherent to a "pull process" as part of the lean manufacturing ideology.
Using current furnace technology, brazing one set of components requires approximately 0.5kWh. Brazing a set of components using induction heating technology only requires 0.03kWh. By using the induction heating system, Magnum Shielding realizes energy savings of 0.47kWh per joint.
Fuel cells are another area that require extensive brazing in the manufacturing process. When a manufacturer (with whom we have a confidentiality agreement ) wanted to braze 200 plates in a fuel cell, GH IA was able to develop a complex brazing process using an intricate coil design and programmable sled. Significant energy savings were recognized here as well. Using current furnace technology, soldering one set of electrodes for a fuel cell requires approximately 7kWh. Soldering one set of electrodes using induction heating technology requires only 0.002kWh, which results in a significant energy savings of 6.998kWh per electrode.