Robotic Manufacturing In The Automotive Industry
Robots give automotive companies a competitive advantage. They improve quality and reduce warranty costs; increase capacity and relieve bottlenecks; and protect workers from dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs. Car assembly plants use robots exclusively for spot welding and painting, but there are many other opportunities to use robots throughout the supply chain. OEMs, Tier 1s and other part producers all stand to gain from using robotics in automotive manufacturing.
Manufacturers turn to robots for many reasons. In the automotive industry, three of the biggest drivers are quality, capacity and safety.
Automotive Manufacturing Quality Gains
Robots reduce part-to-part variability. Highly repeatable, they never tire or get distracted, so every cycle is performed the same way. Neither do they drop parts or handle them in a way that causes damage. That reduces waste previously caused by human error, and it also means less variability in car assembly. Equipped with vision systems, automotive robots can even detect variation in incoming materials and adapt their programmed paths to suit. This, in turn, translates to higher customer satisfaction, fewer mistakes and lower warranty costs.
Addressing Manufacturing Capacity
Automotive supply chains run lean with minimal inventory to buffer against production delays. Automotive part manufacturers strive for consistent times, and consistent process control in every step of the production line. Even the smallest problem can stop an assembly line. Robots don't suffer end-of-shift fatigue, so cycle times are constant all day, every day, and peak production rates are consistent. What’s more, running robots through breaks and shift changeovers yields additional output from production lines when compared to manually attended lines.
Many jobs in automotive manufacturing are hazardous. Sometimes, the dangers are obvious, as when pouring molten metal in a foundry. Other times, they're more insidious, like the musculoskeletal disorders resulting from lifting, twisting and repetitive motions. Robots can prevent these risks to humans. In car assembly, robots keep workers from exposure to fumes from welding and painting, as well as weld flash and the noise of stamping presses. Automotive robotics cut accidents and injury claims by removing workers from these dirty and dangerous tasks by removing them from these environments.
Automotive robots have three advantages over hard or dedicated automation:
- Minimal changeover time from one job to the next. Flexible gripper design is often all that is needed to load a new part program.
- Ability to handle product families. Whether it’s car assembly robots, spot welding different vehicle body styles in quick succession, or a compact machine trimming flash from a range of plastic moldings, robots have the flexibility to switch almost instantly. By using vision systems or other technology like RFID tags, it’s possible to process a wide variety of parts.
- Less risk of obsolescence. When a product line disappears, the robot can be redeployed with little additional or no cost. In contrast, hard automation usually ends up being scrapped.
Automotive Applications for Robots
There are thousands of parts in every car and truck, and it takes myriad manufacturing processes to make them. Advances in automotive robotics technology, like vision systems and force sensing, mean more of these than ever are suitable for robotic automation. Here are some of the best-suited application areas:
- Welding (Spot and Arc): Large robots with high payload capabilities and long reach can spot weld car body panels; while smaller robots weld subassemblies like brackets and mounts. Robotic MIG and TIG arc welding position the torch in the same orientation on every cycle, and repeatable speed and arc gap ensure every fabrication is welded to the same high standard.
- Assembly: Tasks like screw driving, windshield installation and wheel mounting are all candidates for robotic automation in car assembly plants. In many automotive part plants, robots like the high-speed “Delta” machines are assembling smaller component assemblies like pumps and motors.
- Machine Tending: Unloading hot moldings from an injection molding or die casting machine, and loading and unloading CNC machining centers are all good examples of robots tending production machines.
- Material Removal: Because it can follow a complex path repeatedly, a robot is an ideal tool for light trimming and cutting tasks. Examples include cutting fabrics like headliners, trimming flash from plastic moldings and die castings, and polishing molds. Force-sensing technology lets the robot maintain constant pressure against a surface in applications like these.
- Part Transfer: Pouring molten metal in a foundry and transferring a metal stamp from one press to the next are unpleasant jobs for human workers, but they're ideal robot tasks.
- Painting, Coating and Sealing: Able to follow a programmed path consistently, robots are widely used for painting in car assembly plants, but are also good for spraying coatings like sealants, primers and adhesives. Plus, they can lay a uniform bead of sealant prior to assembly.
Learning More About Robotic Automation
Car assembly operations and automotive part manufacturers are some of the biggest users of robots in the manufacturing industry. Robots are easier to program and deploy than ever, but every integration project comes with unique challenges. That's why manufacturers interested in adopting automotive robotics should work with an experienced integration partner for design and installation.
Acieta has successfully installed more than 4,400 industrial robots over the last 34 years in North America. To learn how we can help you implement robotics in automotive manufacturing, contact us today.
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