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The Next Level in Flexible Manufacturing

One Robot Cell for Multi-Process Body Panel Assembly

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.

The Solution

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.

System Benefits

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.

Simplified Storage and Change Over

Within these assembly cells, there are rack-mounted locations for storing and automatic, robot exchangeable EOATs for riveting, gluing, spot welding and inspection verification tooling in the same simple format. Furthermore, modular part assembly fixtures feature pilots and locks with forklift pockets to simplify the exchange during changeover. Unused fixtures are easily stored off-line in racks. Each fixture has a mechanically interlocked alignment feature, automatic docking features for utility connections and RFID to track the asset and confirm that the part type variant required matches the machine set-up.

Ease of Use

This unique work cell design can be programmed to handle a large variety of panel shapes and sizes with simple push button changeover. The man-machine interface has an ergonomic design with safety light curtains and vision system for verification of correct parts and for bead verification for dispensing applications. Operator screens are completely customizable to provide visual work instructions and aid in troubleshooting.

Real World

This flexible cell has proved itself on the manufacturing floor in the processing of multiple quarter panel variants for an SUV model. In this instance, the automated assembly work cell included a tool exchange device that could swap out an EOAT for adhesive dispensing/vision with one for welding. A fixture exchange system using modular tooling platforms enabled changeover for running completely different part styles in less than 10 minutes.

Less Time, Labor and Better Quality

The all-in-one part processing capability improves ergonomics as each cell has the capability to complete a subassembly so finished parts can be placed directly into shipping pallets with no need for staging or transferring to another operation. Reject containment is accomplished with supervisory control over any assembly to prevent quality escapes.

System Highlights

Storage Location for Multiple Robot Tools

In this example, separate spot welding and sealant application heads.

Lower Tooling Pilot/locking Mechanism

This mechanism for part-specific fixtures automatically connects utilities, communication devices and pneumatic services.

Drag the slider to view locked and unlocked positions.

Go-No-Go Safety Lighting

Visually identifying to operators if the cell is armed and actively engaged in production operations.

Drag the slider to view red and green lights.

Offline Assembly Fixture Storage

Manual exchange shown in this example.