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The Bobcat Co.

Bobcat is a leading manufacturer of compact industrial, construction, and agri-business equipment. In fact, their high-quality compact construction machinery is so well known that even competing brands are often referred to as “Bobcats.”

Bobcat improves quality and productivity on production line
At Bobcat’s production facility in Bismarck, constant improvement is part and parcel of the corporate culture. That means every aspect of production is constantly under review – and one area that was ripe for change was how the finishing process was affecting machined and threaded surfaces.

Every assembly moving down the line receives an e-coat treatment, and selected surfaces also undergo a powder coating process. As a result, workers were expending time and effort removing e-coat and powder coat from the inside diameters of several bores, which functioned as pivot points on the finished machines.
Removing the material was time consuming – workers were forced to physically polish the affected surfaces, a process that slowed productivity and also affected quality.

New strategies bring improvements, but more needed
Initially, Bobcat turned to a mask supplier, but their pull plugs (used to protect the internal diameters of several bores) weren’t holding up to Bobcat’s tough e-coat and powder coat finishing environments. Significant mask shrinkage in each production cycle resulted in a less-than-optimal mask life. Compensating for shrinkage by making the plugs oversized created significant insertion problems for workers. It was at this stage of the project that Bobcat contacted Shercon, a specialist in custom molded masking products.

Design & material innovations solve Bobcat’s challenges
Working with Bobcat was Shercon Production Engineer Ruben Dominguez. Dominguez outlined his solution to Bobcat’s pull plug problem: “We designed a hollow pull plug using our Ultrabake™ material to avoid shrinkage issues. This not only increased longevity, but it allowed us to thin the wall thickness a tiny bit which made insertion a lot easier.”

Shercon’s Ultrabake compound is formulated specifically for masking applications in hostile environments (like e-coat and powder coat). It provides greater tensile and tear strength than other masking materials, and incredible longevity due to its exceptional compression set properties. (Compression set refers to a material’s resistance to acquiring a permanent set after exposure to high temperatures).

Thus, masks made for Bobcat didn’t take sets, didn’t shrink, installed quickly, and lasted far longer than previous masks.

New masks a hit with line workers
In six weeks, Shercon had moved from initial contact to the prototype phase, and its initial prototypes found favor on Bobcat’s production lines -- especially with the workers who installed and removed them. The ergonomically designed pull plugs installed far more quickly than the previous plugs, and offered excellent protection from corrosives, e-coat and powder coat. The ergonomic handles also made post-finish removal an easy job.

Bobcat was impressed with Shercon’s custom design efforts, and worker reception for the new plugs was enthusiastic – to the point where workers were specifically picking the Shercon plugs out of the pile and using them instead of the previous supplier’s plugs.

Design expertise improves productivity & longevity
Shercon’s design knowledge also led to other improvements on Bobcat’s production line masking efforts. For example, Shercon’s Dominguez suggested using two separate plugs to mask a paint process instead of one large plug (which Bobcat had been using).

Another productivity gain was scored when Shercon suggested color-coding the masks for faster sorting after each use. This eliminated the guesswork needed – and the mistakes associated with – sorting plugs that appeared similar, but weren’t.

Shercon’s expertise has become so apparent – and their product superiority has been so overwhelming – that Shercon’s involvement in Bobcat’s assembly line continues to grow. In fact, Shercon created a new custom mask for Bobcat that Dominguez is especially pleased with -- a large mask that protects a transmission assembly aperture at pressures up to 7 psi.
Currently, Shercon supplies Bobcat’s Bismarck facility with several custom masks and several hundred off-the-shelf Shercon plugs and masks.

Aiding Shercon’s acceptance at Bobcat is the incredible longevity of its Ultrabake masks. Bobcat was initially expecting 25 to 50 insertions for each mask, but in fact they’re still using masks that are several years old.

Bobcat exploring use of Shercon OEM product line
In addition to its growing use of Shercon’s precision masking products, Bobcat has been exploring Shercon’s “OEM” or Bill of Materials product line. These are custom and off-the-shelf molded parts that don’t mask areas during finishing, but remain a part of the finished equipment. Shercon’s entry in the ‘OEM’ (bill of materials) market leverages its extensive materials and design expertise to deliver problem-solving solutions for customers.

Keith Ennis, Shercon CEO, isn’t surprised at his firm’s success at Bobcat. “We are a solutions-oriented company. Our focus is on engineering great solutions for our customers and on achieving total customer satisfaction. That’s why we formulated Ultrabake, and that’s why our design staff are so responsive.”

Precision Masking; Shercon’s contribution to Bobcat’s assembly process
Bobcat’s Bismarck facility includes in-house finishing areas for e-coat and powder coat application. Typically, all the exposed surfaces in an assembly are e-coated and many are subsequently powder coated, creating problems with surfaces that are machined to a certain size or designed to support bearings.

Masking with tape or paper (like using masking tape on trim when painting walls) is an obvious solution, yet hostile finishing processes require space-age materials and a tight fit to be effective. Assembly line environments also demand ergonomic solutions – if line workers can’t easily install or remove masks, masking will fail.

To keep the internal diameters of several bores free of e-coat or paint, Shercon designed an ergonomic Ultrabake plug. Unlike its predecessor, this plug could be easily installed and removed by line workers, and suffered negligible shrinkage despite repeated exposures to hostile E-coating and powder coating environments.

Shercon’s custom plugs delivered finish-free bores which required no touch-up -- improving line speeds and product quality.


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