Strategies for successfully implementing flexible lines in automotive manufacturing
Just as engineers must put a lot of thought into designing vehicles with better gas mileage, manufacturers must streamline their operations to deal with the challenges of an increasingly complex industry. Changes in gasoline prices could quickly boost the popularity of certain vehicles, and automakers need to be prepared. The key to success is flexibility.
Although it’s not a new idea to produce more than one vehicle on a single assembly line, the extent to which an automaker’s competitive advantage hinges on reducing the effort required to switch from one vehicle to another has been increasing rapidly. Flexibility helps minimize the likelihood of producing vehicles that don’t sell, but it also reduces throughput to some extent.
Fortunately, manufacturing systems and technologies are evolving in ways that can help minimize the time and effort required for vehicle changeover while helping manufacturers stay on top of changing consumer demand. Here are a few strategies for implementing the ideal flexible manufacturing system.
1. Use collaborative robots with vision guidance to automate a variety of repetitive tasks
Robots are very easy to re-task, and a certain category of robots known as collaborative robots (or cobots) are designed to work seamlessly with human operators. Many cobots, such as Omron’s TM Series robot, employ intuitive, hand-guiding mechanisms that make it simple for even novice operators to train them on new tasks for new vehicles.
Whether collaborative or not, robots of all types can work wonders especially when paired with vision. Since smart cameras like Omron’s easy-to-mount MicroHAWK MV family can locate the correct parts using pattern recognition, the system can simply send changeover data electronically to jump-start the production of a new vehicle.
2. Make good use of floor and aisle space with autonomous intelligent vehicles
Manufacturers can maximize the value of floor and aisle space with a modular approach, but this creates another challenge when it comes to connecting each stage of the production line. Conveyors are cumbersome to move, and autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) require floor modifications like magnetic tape. Neither are the best choice for space-constrained facilities.
Omron’s mobile robots provide a unique solution. These self-navigating Autonomous Intelligent Vehicles, or AIVs, are designed to dynamically move materials in challenging environments, including narrow passageways and manned locations. No floor modifications are needed, so AIVs save up to 15% of implementation costs compared with other options.
3. Implement a robust traceability system to deal with the complexity of today’s vehicles
In addition to providing transportation, today’s automobiles are also designed to satisfy the driver’s need for comfort, connectivity and entertainment. This shift in demand has caused vehicles to gain complexity with additional in-car technologies. A fully automated, real-time traceability system can help manufacturers ensure that each car gets the right components.
Traceability is the practice of marking individual parts with machine-readable codes to automatically track their progress throughout production. In addition to providing easy look-up for individual parts, traceability makes it much easier to follow production “recipes.” When mismatches are discovered, the system will sound an alarm to alert operators of the mistake.
Overall, flexibility helps maximize throughput and uptime while ensuring that production lines can adapt quickly to changing customer demands. Downtime is extremely expensive in the automotive industry, and it’s crucial to minimize vehicle changeover time. The right strategies can help manufacturers building unsellable vehicles and avoiding high downtime costs.
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