The era of EV vehicles and proliferation of body styles that target rapidly changing consumer tastes has brought new challenges to manufacturers of automotive body panels and structural components. Manufacturers have been offering multiple versions of the same product, enabling consumers to select a style more suited to their preference. This has led to an increase in “high mix/low volume” (HMLV) applications”, that requires flexibility to handle different types of assembly processes.
Lincoln Electric Automation’s Coldwater operation, long recognized for its automated manufacturing solutions, has developed a standardized flexible HMLV body panel assembly cell for processing multiple variants with ability for quick changeover. Not only can this system accommodate different parts with widely different geometries, but it can also perform multiple processes — such riveting, spot welding, gluing and sealant dispensing, and inspection — in a single robot cell. The HMLV assembly cells are scalable to help match throughput to market demand while helping to minimize capital investment.
In this example, developed to process four different automotive panels, both the robot fixtures and the lower tooling fixtures are exchangeable, and capable of applying 11-15 mastic daubs and 14-17 spot welds in around four minutes.
The HMLV body panel assembly cell features a docking system for rapidly changing out jigs and fixtures to handle completely different assemblies. Robot EOAT changeover is automatic with rack-mounted tools that can include riveting, gluing, and spot welding in the same cell. Once the modular assembly fixtures are docked and the program is selected on the HMI, the cell is ready to go. Each fixture is interlocked and, has forklift pockets so they can be easily transported to racks for off-line storage. RFID tracking of the asset confirm that the machine set-up matches to program selection.