Comau discusses how vehicle manufacturers can improve efficiency through innovative engineering solutions

When balancing the needs of a dynamic global marketplace, greater flexibility and higher performance in production operations are essential to automotive manufacturers. The challenge to achieve this is frequently linked to their production facilities, many of which were built to support a market driven by the high-volume production of a select number of top models.

What is generally agreed upon is the requirement for increased functionality and versatility of body welding and assembly processes; and yet few manufacturers are in a position to completely replace or renovate their existing production facilities. This has created a need for innovative manufacturing solutions that can be easily integrated within existing facilities while meeting or exceeding the highest requirements with regard to flexibility, quality, speed and reliability.

Extensive industry experience
As one of world’s largest providers for body welding and assembly systems, Comau has developed hundreds of unique products and processes to support the challenging and changing requirements of body-in-white (BIW) manufacturing. With 40 years of experience in the automotive sector and a team of over 100 qualified engineers, plus extensive know-how in leading-edge production systems for the assembly of bodies, sub-assemblies and complete bodyshops, Comau is able to offer a complete range of advanced, modular manufacturing solutions. These include flexible body structure assembly units, accumulating pallet transfer systems and powerful joining technologies that are designed to enhance existing processes, which streamline the manufacturing approach and utilise lean manufacturing principals.

This means that manufacturers of all sizes can rely on Comau standard solutions to cover their bodyshop equipment and manufacturing processes. Each of these solutions is fully backed by the engineering excellence of the highly skilled, global organisation. From integrated energy reduction technology to the utilisation of high-density robotic cells, the strong degree of vertical integration within Comau ensures that every system is designed to optimise workflows while minimising productivity loss, assembly downtime and overall energy consumption.

Reorganising production
To better understand how standard solutions can optimise production efficiencies and factory logistics within a modular and expandable framework, it is important to take a look at the flexible body-welding factory according to Comau’s operational philosophy. The company’s new ComauFlex bodyshop system essentially reorganises the production area into two distinct areas that are fully interconnected; the first area prepares and organises the materials to be assembled, while the second area is dedicated to the assembly processes themselves. This restructuring is not only revolutionary in its design but also in its vision, as the multi-faceted solution takes into account the whole factory and not just the single process.

Comau’s exclusive operational strategy improves production logistics management and can handle advanced joining materials including aluminium and advanced ultra-high-strength steel (UHSS). It also ensures advanced operational flexibility, is able to manage both high volumes and multiple models within a compact and to complete multi-functional work cell. The results speak for themselves; automotive manufacturers within and outside the FCA Group that have adopted the ComauFlex system are seeing significant savings in terms of time, long-term costs and production efficiencies. Ford, for example, is using ComauFlex to optimise its assembly process and resource use and has been able to enhance production capabilities, reduce work-in-process, improve material logistics, save energy and minimise the floor space required for BIW manufacturing.

Comau FlexThe powerful accumulating pallet conveyor (APC) and VersaPallet in-line fast transfer system are two more examples of how Comau is spearheading innovation within BIW manufacturing. The Accumulating Pallet Conveyor is a modular system based on an automatic chain tensioning system that delivers enhanced flexibility and speed while reducing noise, maintenance costs and energy consumption. The VersaPallet transfer system is based on a precision geometry tooling pallet that actually moves the body through the various production lines to guarantee the fast, efficient transfer of materials through the line and reduce non-value-added process time.

Similarly, the compact welding gun, which is significantly lighter than other products on the market and can handle 100% of typical BIW welding applications, is built to deliver maximum performance and flexibility. Compatible with any robot with an internal or external dressing, the innovative design can be easily integrated within high-density welding cells and stations, thereby reducing the overall manufacturing footprint while obtaining higher overall production volumes.

This same attention to detail and performance is seen within the company’s patent-pending roller hemming system which has been specifically developed to addresses the dual market requirements of increased efficiency and accuracy. Known as 'RHEvo', this automated and inherently flexible solution can hem very complex elements across multiple manufacturing lines. By ensuring consistent hemming quality over time, with high reliability, complete process control and optimised interchange ability of the roller packs, RHEvo preserves the geometric uniformity of the assembled parts while reducing time to market and lowering overall production costs.

Multi-material joining challenges
The common thread among Comau’s standard solutions is that each is backed by its world-class competencies in assembly and joining technologies, and in particular those concerning advanced, lightweight materials. This is important given that automotive manufacturers will undoubtedly look to join multiple materials and components as they push to reduce overall vehicle weight. They may also begin to seek specific solutions to address the different car segments.

VersaRoll, ComauHere is where over 40 years of combined expertise and strong commitment to R&D set the company apart. The benefit of what Comau proposes is the method in which the Global Solutions team works directly with each customer to jointly develop a tailored technology solution that meets the actual operative and investment requirements of the factory. In addition, the engineering team is dedicated to designing innovative and efficient ways to optimise key manufacturing processes, increase performance and lower energy use from day one.

In this way, Comau is able to integrate cutting-edge technologies within existing production facilities without the need to completely rework the legacy processes already in place. Smart solutions for the modern factory; that’s the Comau advantage.