Smithfield site finds a way to increase capacity by tackling a production bottleneck


Through its catalyst businesses, Johnson Matthey makes a major contribution to reducing air pollution around the world. In the US, stricter regulation on emissions from heavy duty diesel (HDD) vehicles, such as trucks and buses, came into force in 2010 and the company opened a new plant in Smithfield, Pennsylvania to produce emission control catalysts for the North American HDD market.

Almost at once demand exceeded supply and the Smithfield site had to find a way to increase capacity. A team from two functions, Process and Automation, came together to identify a way forward.

A bottleneck lay in the process of drying the catalysts. The catalysts pass through the dryer on trays, with robot arms – or grippers – placing them into position. The maximum capacity for the trays was one large catalyst or two smaller ones per tray. But there was an opportunity to change the design of the production line to allow two larger catalysts to fit on every tray.
The team devised a way in which the reach of the robot grippers could be extended and at the same time, the trays were redesigned to allow two larger catalysts on each tray. The system was reconfigured so that the robot placed the first, then the second catalyst on the tray which then proceeded to the dryer.

The capital cost of the change was modest but the result was significant. The plant has increased overall capacity by around 15%. Cycle times have been reduced by one to three seconds so that more parts are now being made for the same energy input. The additional capacity is now enough to meet the demand for HDD catalysts.