ABB partners with Changan Ford to boost Chinese carmaker’s flexibility

2014-05-20 – Long a car-industry mantra, “flexible production” becomes a reality at Chinese automobile plant – with help from ABB Robotics

It takes just 18 seconds for the Ford Motor Co. and its partner, Changan, to switch between vehicle models on a production line where ABB robots ensure one of China’s biggest carmakers can react quickly to shifting consumer sentiment, rising demand and a changing economy.
To put those 18 seconds in perspective, the joint venture’s plant in Chongqing, in southwestern China, can go from making Ford Mondeos (in the U.S., think Fusions) to any one of as many as five different models faster than sprinter Usain Boltrunsthe 200 meters.ABB’s robots also ease introduction of completely new models to the line, too, an advance from traditional production lines that required more extensive work before a new model could be added – hardly ideal if consumers’ tastes change quickly.

“Flexible production,” a car-industry mantra since the 1990s, is becoming a necessity in China and the rest of the world as auto manufacturers accommodate customer expectations that can turn faster than prices at the gas pump while ensuring factories are prepared for sweeping demand swings like the one that accompanied the Great Recession.
“The economic downturn has been tough on automakers and highlighted the need to be more adaptive to the demands of the market,” said Yuan HenXin, Manufacturing Engineering Manager for Changan Ford. “This is especially true when it comes to being able to respond quicker to changes in customer preference, as well as remain competitive in a fierce industry.”


How fast?
Changan Ford, with its facilities 900 miles upstream from Shanghai on the Yangtze River in one of China’s auto manufacturing hubs, is actually an expansion of a long partnership between Ford and ABB Robotics. It’s already boosted flexibility of the carmaker’s operations.

In 2012, for instance, ABB Robotics installed a Tube Press and Weld System to make axles and gears for the F-150 Pickup truck, among other vehicles, at the Ford Sterling Axle Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. Now, a complete changeover between axle types can be completed in less than 43 seconds _ not as fast as Bolt’s 200, maybe, but faster than Michael Johnson’s 400-meter world record.

Working now with Changan Ford in China, ABB’s FlexLean Automotive Bodyshop Solution is deployed at the stage of production known as “Body in White”. That’s industry shorthand for when the car’s body is just beginning to take shape, including assembling raw stamped metal body panels into a welded frame.

First, the car’s underbody arrives for ABB robots to begin the gluing process, making it possible for up to six different models to be produced on the same production line. This flexible robotic production line has the unique ability to adapt, on the fly, for cars of different widths and lengths without a moment of stopped production, because of ABB’s robotic technology.

Flexible ABB robots do the heavy lifting

Next, the roof goes on, also with ABB robots doing the heavy lifting before turning to high-speed brazing, accurate laser welding and polishing that gives Changan Ford’s cars’ exterior the kind of finish consumers are seeking.

In minutes, each new frame has acquired the stiffness necessary for safety.

And in just seconds, the line is ready for the next car – even if it’s a different model.

“This philosophy uses robotics technology to replace traditional custom-made machinery with standardized solutions,” said Alan Stapelberg, Global Product Manager of ABB Robotics Body-In-White Portfolio. “These products are modular in design and flexible, allowing multiple car models to be produced on the same line and new models to be added easily.”

The world’s No. 1 car market – and rising

Changan Ford says replacing custom machinery – typically designed specifically to produce just one vehicle model – with ABB’s standardized, flexible solution allows them to reuse the hardware investment across new models, saving them money and making a lot of financial sense.

Additionally, life is made easier for maintenance workers who now have comprehensive maintenance documentation and spare parts close at hand.

And with the production line’s machinery all running on the identical language as ABB’s robots, operators need less training and can get to work more quickly as new models are added, Changan Ford said.

Increasingly affluent consumers have already made China the world’s No. 1 market for cars, at 20 million-plus units sold in 2013 and rising.

With Chinese wages set to rise more than 10 percent this year, its residents will have even more buying power to demand safer, higher-quality, Internet-connected cars.

“With this increasing prosperity, the market will continue to grow, meaning high-volume production which can only be accomplished with full automation,” Changan Ford’s Yuan said, adding global cooperation is key to modern vehicle manufacturing. “ABB Robotics is a good partner for us in this regard.”

 

 

 

ABB Robotics – Automotive Body in White Assembly at Changan-Ford China

Publicado el 03/04/2014

ABB Robotics and Ford Motor Company have had an intimate relationship in creating innovative automation solutions for many years. This collaboration continues in Chongqing, China, where the Changan-Ford joint venture is using flexible production lines to produce some of its newest models—including the very popular Ford Fusion/Mondeo

Source: ABBRobotics

Space robot research could help improve vehicle communications, Ford says.

Professor Vladimir Mulukha of the St. Petersburg Polytechnic University shakes hands with the mobile humanoid “Justin,” one type of robot used in Ford’s space robots research project.

Ford’s latest research project is out of this world. Really. It’s in space. Ford Motor Co. is teaming up with researchers at the St. Petersburg Polytechnic University in Russia to study communication between robots at the International Space Station and Earth in the hope of developing better systems for connected cars.

The three-year project will observe the communication models of robots in space to understand how vehicles can communicate better with other vehicles, the cloud and with such infrastructure elements as buildings and traffic lights. Such communication can prevent congestion, reduce accidents and deliver messages to drivers.

Researchers also hope to learn more about how emergency vehicle communications can be improved. For example, Ford’s research looks at the potential of using vehicle-to-vehicle communication in the event an emergency message can’t be sent from a vehicle to the cloud because of network failure. They say a call for help could travel through other vehicles and pieces of infrastructure until a connection to first responders is found.

“The research of fallback options and robust message networks is important,” Oleg Gusikhin, technical leader in systems analytics for Ford, said in a statement. “If one network is down, alternatives need to be identified and strengthened to reliably propagate messages between networks.”

Many of the technologies being used by robots on the space station — including dedicated short-range communication, cellular LTE wireless broadband and mesh networking — are in development or already being used in cars and other applications on Earth.

After studying the robots, Ford engineers hope to develop an algorithm that could be integrated into connected-car systems that would route messages through the appropriate network based on its urgency. Emergency messages would travel through faster, reliable connections, while entertainment-related messages might use networks with a lower priority.

The robots that the researchers will work with include the JUSTIN Humanoid, EUROBOT Ground Prototype and NASA Robonaut R2.

Source: Autonews