Axiam Plastics approached Ford Australia with the idea of a folding, rigid light weight cargo cover. Despite being just a concept, it was enough to spark the interest of Fords engineers. Ford took a gamble and initiated a move to AXIAM.
AXIAM was a new supplier with an unproven concept, and no suitable machinery or technology currently on site. Regardless, the design and innovation evident in the concept encouraged Ford to leave the comfort of their regular supplier—part way through their build program—and seek something very new at AXIAM.
The concept of the folding, light weight, rigid cover design was an idea that was now proving very popular. It allows for a variation of the amount of cover the user requires. It's also rigid enough to stack things on top of, increasing the versatility and carrying capacity of the vehicle.
AXIAM then had the task of tooling up to manufacture a single rigid part, 1300 x 1000mm that folds in 3 places and contains multiple inserts to suit Fords requirements.
Built into the large thin die plates are several magnets to hold the steel tubes and the hinge plates in place, a water heating system to ensure that a constant tool surface temperature is maintained and a vacuum system to assist puling the fabric into the contoured detail of the tool surfaces.
The mould station, also designed and built in house, had to allow for the tool to slide out while it opened to ensure easy and very clear access, both for operators fitting up the cloth and inserts and to give the 6 axis robot plenty of room to move.
The process involves laying out the first cloth, then fitting into the tool, 4 steel pipes, 16 magnets, 8 magnet plates and 4 hinge plates. After ensuring everything is in exactly the right place, a vacuum is then activated and the second cloth layer is added. The 6 axis Robot programmed with a precise pour pattern of speed, pressure, flow and position then injects the foam plus glass fibre into the mould. All tooling, jigs and fixtures as well as hinge assemblies, magnet plates, pivot pins etc are manufactured in NZ.
After curing, the part is removed and undergoes the first visual check. It is then placed into a jig where the cloth is trimmed and ultrasonic welded. Next comes the fitting of the bump stops, webbing loops, hinge assemblies and Pivot pins. The parts are then weighed and put into a jig which allows us to record the 27 critical measurements that Ford requires for this part.
Commercial performance of this product since beginning pre-production manufacturing in November 2003, then on to full production by April 2004 has seen the demand set to reach 22,000 units in the first year. Production on this is still running in to 2011 at this stage.
Despite being a concept, the design & innovation evident was enough to encourage Ford to move to AXIAM