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Sparta, Inc.

Sic: 3182

Supporting a Mission Critical Operation
Heavy-duty conveyors help SPARTA automate manual operation, achieve new levels of productivity.

Sparta Conveyor Pic
Automated chain transfers efficiently move heavy material at right angles to connecting conveyor lines.

Everyone talks about their products being mission critical, but in the case of SPARTA Inc., they really are. The company's San Diego-based Composites Products division makes the hardware that goes into some of the military's most advanced weaponry. For example, SPARTA's composites product is a key component in the U.S. Army's "Javelin" man-portable anti-tank missiles.

When you're in the business of supporting the country's front-line soldiers, you have to make certain that every aspect of your operation is reliable and efficient. And that includes the materials handling operations associated with making those products.

SPARTA adheres to the philosophy of continuous improvement throughout its supply chain operations. 
A good example of this can be seen at the company's San Diego production facility, which makes the hardware used in the housing for the Javelin missiles.

In the past, this operation had relied heavily on a few basic gravity conveyors and a lot of physical exertion. That's all changed. Today, the facility uses heavy-duty conveyor equipment from Hytrol to move product through the production processes. In addition, the company is in the process of adding new equipment to make the San Diego center even more productive in the future. Assisting SPARTA with these projects is Atlas Equipment Co., a systems integrator and distributor of Hytrol equipment based in San Diego.

Safety and Efficiency

Prior to adding the powered conveyor equipment, the load frames and other materials handled in San Diego were moved around the production center on gravity conveyors and were handled manually. The problem, however, was that load frames carrying the composite materials used for the missile housings typically weigh in excess of 1,000 pounds. In addition to the obvious ergonomics problems, this situation brought with it productivity and potential safety issues. Without an automated materials-flow system, congestion increased throughout the facility as new production lines were added. This was not an optimum situation, either from a productivity or safety standpoint.

Sparta Conveyor Pic 2
The installation of powered chain-driven conveyors has largely eliminated the need for manual handling of the heavy load frames.

Now, hardware moves from one production area to the next smoothly and with minimum manual effort. The heart of the system is the chain-driven live rollers that connect the various production processes. The load frames are transferred from one line to the next by means of powered chain transfers. These units move products at right angles to the connecting conveyor lines. An air actuator lifts the transfer mechanism while powered chains transfer the product.

"With the new power lifts and chain transfers, the load frames change direction very easily," says Joseph R. Cook, principal manufacturing engineer for SPARTA's Composites Products Operation. "It's a much smoother operation than we had before."

Hardware can now move throughout the facility in a more automated - and much more efficient - manner. Chain-driven conveyors transport the load frames from the lay-up room, where the production-preparation activities take place, to the main production area. Powered transfers then divert the frames down one of three lines serving the mold-closing stations.

Once the composites product is cured in the mold-closing station, the load frames are moved via the chain-driven conveyors to the mold-opening area. There the composites product is separated from the mold, the mold is cleaned, and the load frame is released for transport back to lay-up for reuse. The facility now processes more than 1,600 parts a month. In short, it's a straightforward system well suited to the compact 36,000 square-foot facility.

Enhancements for the Future

Management at SPARTA has high praise for the manner in which the conveyor equipment was installed. "We never stopped production at any point during the installation," Business Manager Matthew Barraco recalls. "The people at Atlas Equipment worked around our schedule and our operations. The entire installation went smoothly and right on schedule."

Sparta Conveyor Pic 3Up and running for about a year now, the new installation already has delivered a number of important benefits. SPARTA is able to do more with less manpower - in an environment that is safer and ergonomically friendly for employees.

Productivity and efficiency will increase even further, management believes, with the upcoming addition of several new conveyor components. One is a zero-pressure accumulating conveyor in the line leading from the lay-up room to the main production area. This segment will incorporate the EZ Logic feature, enabling more efficient staging and flow of product into the production processes. SPARTA also plans to add additional chain-driven units to replace the ball transfer tables still in place. Atlas Equipment is installing this new equipment as well.

"Essentially, we're moving toward a fully automated operation," sums up Business Manager Barraco. Going forward, these kinds of improvements will enable SPARTA to continue to carry out its mission-critical operation.

The SPARTA Production Facility

Load frames housing the composites product move from the lay-up room to the main productionHytrol EZLogic area on chain-driven live roller conveyor. Powered chain transfers send the frames down one of three lines serving the mold-closing stations. Once the material is cured, the load frames are transported to the mold-opening area. There the product is removed and the frames are cleaned and sent back on the chain-driven line to lay-up for reuse. SPARTA is adding an accumulating line with EZ Logic between lay-up and the production area to more effectively control the flow of material.

Sparta System Layout


A Closer Look At The Distribution Warehouse
Facility: Production Center
Location: San Diego, CA
Size: 36,000 square feet
Employees: 45 (two shifts)
Key Personnel: Matthew Barraco, business manager; Joseph R. Cook, principal manufacturing engineer
Product Handled: Composites products for missiles
Throughput: Approximately 1,600 parts per month
Shipment Method: Primarily LTL
Types of conveyors: Chain-driven live roller (25-CRR), chain transfer (CT-3000), ball transfer tables Coming: Zero-pressure accumulating (190-SPEZ)
Conveyor Supplier: Hytrol Conveyor Inc., Jonesboro, AR