Evolution adds brains to assembly line
Just over a hundred years ago, Henry Ford changed automotive manufacturing forever when the first assembly line started operating in Highland Park, Michigan, on December 1, 2013.
Ford celebrated the milestone by including an assembly line as part of its exhibit at the North American International Auto Show, held in Detroit during January 2014. The evolution of the assembly line has seen the introduction of robotics and sophisticated programming. In December 2013, Ford Motor Company announced that it was piloting IntoSite™, an application in the Siemens Tecnomatix® portfolio. The application allows users to navigate virtually through plants – down to the workstations. “Under the Ford production system, we are constantly looking for ways to improve standardization around the globe,” said John Fleming, Ford executive vice president of global manufacturing. “The Siemens IntoSite software pilot is helping us explore the realm of possibility for future cross-regional workplace communication.” Siemens works with Comau to provide robotics. Comau is part of the Fiat Group and is a developer of advanced production systems for full vehicle body and components manufacturing.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Raj Batra, President – Industry Automation, Siemens Industry, what role Siemens has played in changing the face of automotive manufacturing across the world.
Batra: Siemens technology gives automakers the power to link automotive design and manufacturing design unlike any other automation company. Before a single vehicle is built, and before the assembly line is installed, powerful computers simulate the entire manufacturing process. Both robot and human tasks are meticulously choreographed.
AI: How is Siemens helping OEMs meet some of the challenges facing them?
Batra: Over the last two decades, the automotive industry has undergone profound changes. Just think of the impact of recessions, oil price fluctuations, changing fuel economy standards, the exponential expansion of consumer preferences, and the increasing complexity of automobiles. All of this means that automakers must cope with complexity, get to market faster, and produce vehicles more efficiently than ever before. Siemens helps automotive manufacturers through our technology, our expertise and our global footprint. A great example is helping automakers adopt standardized powertrain solutions in their plants around the world.
AI: How has globalization of manufacturing changed automotive manufacturing?
Batra: A tremendous consolidation has happened among automakers and their suppliers. With fewer companies covering more of the global automotive landscape, standardization of the manufacturing process has become the gold standard for production excellence. Ford is a great example. All over the world, Ford leverages Siemens’ comprehensive approach for planning and implementing of powertrain production systems, including project management, consulting and services. Siemens helped Ford develop the FAST (Ford and Siemens Transline) specification for powertrain automation solutions. The goal of the standard is to bring to market several new and fuel efficient automotive powertrain products. Siemens CNCs, PLCs and the integration of both are key elements of Ford’s design.
AI: How have Siemens and Comau helped Ford stay abreast of technology?
Batra: Our companies have a deep understanding of automotive trends and the changing needs of automakers and their ecosystem of suppliers. A full 80% of automotive factories around the world have Siemens automation equipment. Among automakers, 14 of the top 15 and almost 90% of the top 25 suppliers use Siemens. Siemens and Comau have been collaborating for years to drive innovation in order to add value to the automotive manufacturing process. The key ingredient in any strong supplier-customer relationship is trust. The trust that we have built up is based on a solid track record of delivering solutions that help keep our customers more competitive. At Siemens, we talk about “building the right product and building the product right.” This slogan is a great fit for the work we’re doing with Ford and Comau in operations around the world.
AI: How does IntoSite help OEMs?
Batra: IntoSite is a cloud-based web application that maintains a 3D representation of a production facility, presents it in its geographical context, and allows users to navigate through the facility in the simple and familiar way they navigate Google Earth™. IntoSite supports cooperation and harnesses the “wisdom of the crowd” by enabling the sharing of best practices, tips and tricks. Ford’s vision is the concept of One Ford or the idea of one team, one plan and one goal. Using IntoSite helps Ford achieve its vision because users can collaborate in completely new ways.
AI: How is this technology helping OEMs?
Batra: Automakers will be able to achieve new levels of competitiveness as they are able to increase flexibility in the production process. For example, manufacturing multiple engines on the same assembly line is becoming more and more important. Automakers are poised to make major strides in terms of achieving this flexibility through the use of enabling technologies such as PROFINET or industrial Ethernet. Ford adopted PROFINET in its powertrain operations globally starting in 2008. The goal was to deliver powertrain programs with safe and reliable control solutions at the lowest cost. PROFINET-based controls make it possible to achieve this product flexibility with zero production loss. Ford’s standardization on PROFINET was also integral to its safety strategy.
AI asked John Billings, Vice President and Head of Automotive, Siemens Industry, how technology has transformed auto manufacturing and how will it continue to do so.
Billings: Technology in the automobile production process is helping automakers accelerate vehicle innovations demanded by the marketplace. Fuel economy/ emissions requirements, greater personalization of vehicles and growth of electronics require major changes in vehicle design and a corresponding need for new manufacturing approaches. Automotive, and to some extent aerospace companies, tower above others in their deep understanding of the potential of digital manufacturing.
AI: Give us an idea of the cost savings that technology has enabled in automotive manufacturing.
Billings: We’ve seen automakers reduce development cycles for new vehicles from 20 months to 10.5 months with 80% fewer problems reported after vehicle release. These types of gains are changing the way companies approach product design and manufacturing. Ford, for example, was able to reduce issues in the vehicle launch process (during the first physical build) by 80% over a four-year time frame
AI: What are some of the highlights of work Siemens has done with companies like Ford?
Billings: Siemens has been working with Ford for more than 25 years and is present in more than 40 of their plants on five continents. Siemens technology (both hardware and software) is used by Ford engineers in all Ford vehicle programs around the world and is integral to every phase of Ford’s operations – from vehicle design, engineering, production, and ultimately even in their customer service. One highlight would have to be the work we have done with Ford related to the new F-150 truck. The engine and transmission of the F-150 are manufactured with machines controlled by Siemens technology. The aluminum panels used to construct the F-150 are produced on presses controlled by Siemens technology. Siemens software also helped Ford achieve the new technology behind the F-150 lightweight design which contributes to significant increases in fuel efficiency. In addition, Siemens is helping the line builders meet the aggressive launch dates required for the new F-150.