Rethinking the concept of production factory with more functional, efficient and versatile body welding lines. according to this vision, comau launches an operational philosophy that optimizes the layout of the working areas through the use of modular and integrable systems.
With a 40+ year presence in the automotive sector and extensive know-how in leading-edge production systems for the assembly of bodies, sub-assemblies and complete body shops, Comau can offer versatile and turn-key plants, always keeping pace with the requirements expressed by the market. Today, in fact, the main drivers that guide a car manufacturer in the choice of the ideal body shop partner are solutions offerings that grant operational flexibility, minimum facility requirements, high volumes and multiple models, along with the possibility of using advanced material joining technologies. These are requirements that Comau meets in complete and innovative ways, with a working philosophy that revolutionizes the traditional concept of the production factory: ComauFlex. Comau has always focused our development efforts towards the future market trends in the body assembly industry, among them the demand for the highest flexibility in a production plant – explains Ennio Chiatante, Comau Global Solutions Development Product Engineering & Management Director; thanks to the ComauFlex philosophy we can grant extreme operational versatility to automotive manufacturers in terms of volume, number of models, production logistics management and use of advanced materials, like aluminum and high strength steels.
The “flexible” factory according to Comau
Through the application of ComauFlex principles, the production area is reorganized into two distinct and interconnected areas – one intended for the kitting of the material to be assembled and the other dedicated to the actual assembly. ComauFlex philosophy is the culmination of an evolution of assembly processes and components that Comau has developed and refined over the last 10 years – explains Ennio Chiatante. Adopting ComauFlex requires a willingness to change from traditional methods in return for significant savings of time, long term costs and improvements in operational efficiency. ComauFlex’s innovative factory restyling not only maximizes production efficiency but also gives a more orderly and rational layout to the industrial production environment. Unlike what can happen with a traditional body shop, ComauFlex provides a vision for the whole factory. Assembly material is introduced in a single area similar to a supermarket or warehouse. The material is then kitted, based on the current model mix, directly onto the assembly carrier at the beginning of each line. Kitted carriers are then transferred through the assembly zone where parts are robotically removed from the carrier kit and added to the part being assembled. The advantage is clear: a better arrangement of the working activities that, subdivided and concentrated in specific areas, reduces operational stand-by times and the number of necessary steps to accomplish the whole production course.
From the concept to the product: VersaRoll and VersaPallet
To achieve this innovative approach, Comau has developed two solutions that compose the main and subassembly lines of a production system – VersaRoll and VersaPallet. Both are modular systems that are configured to address the whole production process, redefining the arrangement and structure of all body assembly lines. Both systems assure a fast transfer of material through the line, which reduces non-value added time. Thanks to their standardization and modularity, cells can be shipped to the factory completely assembled and tested, facilitating very short installation and launch times. In particular, VersaRoll is a closed loop assembly and welding system. An absolute encoder with closed loop control that allows the high speed transfer of parts with high positioning accuracy, VersaPallet can be defined as a high-performance in-line transfer system, based on a geometric pallet, used for handling the body through the lines. It is able to replace the fixed underbody tooling required by the various models being assembled in the system. VersaRoll systems are mainly used for setting geometry of subassemblies, such as body sides and chassis, while VersaPallet systems are mainly used to complete framing, joining and assembly operations – further explains Ennio Chiatante. The body framing station, called Comau Open RoboGate, is integrated within the VersaPallet framing line. Open RoboGate is a modular, flexible and expandable system that can be equipped with a maximum of 18 robots per station and up to 6 dedicated framing gates. All three systems – VersaRoll, VersaPallet & Open RoboGate – utilize overhead-mounted robots, allowing production lines to use the highest possible density of robots, thus reducing the overall footprint of the production system and enabling a higher volume of joining operations within each station. Comau’s goal is to propose innovative and efficient ways to optimize production processes for our customers, while respecting each customer’s unique requirements and expectations. For this reason, we prefer to work together with our customers to jointly develop the optimum solution which fully satisfies their production and investment requirements – says Ennio Chiatante. It is not necessary, in fact, to install all three systems considering that they can be used independently, being integrated with customer preferred and/or legacy solutions within each unique customer and application.
A market that looks at the future
Comau promoted its new automation approach in 2010 with Fiat Group Automobiles and Chrysler, configuring their main body assembly lines using VersaRoll, VersaPallet and Open RoboGate Systems. Since then, Fiat Auto and Chrysler have purchased 6 plants, installed throughout Europe and NAFTA, which embrace the ComauFlex philosophy. An example of the great flexibility assured by this solution is the Fiat 500 and Fiat Freemont plant where both models are produced on the same lines. The offering of increasingly efficient solutions for body shops has allowed Comau to supply ComauFlex solutions to multiple automotive manufacturers outside Fiat Group – states Chiatante; in fact, we recently participated at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit with a display consisting of a portion of the body assembly lines that Comau is currently working on with Ford Motor Company. The new production lines will use VersaRoll, VersaPallet and Open RoboGate systems to help produce Ford’s best-selling US vehicle, the F-150 pickup truck, an all-new 2015 truck featuring an all-aluminum body. This is not the only example of strategic partnership developed through application of ComauFlex methodologies. In Europe, for instance, other major manufacturers in the automotive sector have started incorporating this new production philosophy, often integrating their body shop lines with these innovative systems or working with Comau to study specific solutions to optimize their operations. Volvo, for instance, has purchased a complete VersaPallet line, even if it has preferred to not adopt the principle of high-density stations with overhead-mounted robots at this time. Additionally, at the beginning of this year, Jaguar Land Rover adopted the VersaRoll and VersaPallet systems for the production of a new model that will be on the market at the end of 2015, asking us to integrate their standard framing station into the new Comau line. The success within multiple European manufacturers proves that the modularity and versatility of Comau solutions allow us to meet the production requirements of even the most demanding customers.