Standardized robotic stations can improve quality as lightweight materials gain favor, exec says

Comau's Martin Kinsella says multi-robot stations present "a stable, cost-effective solution for the next generation of body shops." Photo credit: Greg Horvath

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Automakers’ rapid embrace of lightweight materials will dramatically increases manufacturing complexity that can be solved with automation and standardization, says Martin Kinsella, director of advanced materials and process technology for Comau Inc.

He says switching from steel to aluminum and other lightweight materials means multiple methods, such as rivets and adhesive, must be used on the same lines to join the materials. Robots can handle the work, but automakers need to rethink the way their body shops are designed, he said at the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars today.

Innovative practices to aid robotic manufacturing can eliminate complexity and reduce errors, improving total build quality, Kinsella said. For example, parts are loaded on a sled above the body under construction. Robots grab the part off the sled, move it down to the vehicle, and weld it on.

Comau, a unit of Fiat S.p.A., worked with Jaguar Land Rover 15 years ago as the British automaker switched to aluminum bodies.

Most recently, Comau has been working with Ford Motor Co. on the transition of the 2015 F-150 to an aluminum body. The company also uses Chrysler Group’s Sterling Height Assembly plant in Michigan, where the 2015 Chrysler 200 is assembled, as a global model for its manufacturing processes.

Kinsella said the multi-robot stations used to assemble the Chrysler 200 sedan are indicative of what all automakers could achieve. In one station at Sterling Heights, for example, 18 robots work simultaneously to weld 90 spots on the body in a total of 47 seconds.

The stations are flexible enough to work on different vehicles being assembled on the same line. The same technology is being used by Ford for the F-150.

Kinsella said the multi-robot stations present “a stable, cost-effective solution for the next generation of body shops.”

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett



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