Lightweight construction is on the agenda in automobile production, but the struggle to reduce every kilogram of weight possible presents challenges to production strategies. New production processes and technologies are required if light construction concepts are to be viable with respect to costs. AUTOMATICA, in Munich from 3 until 6 June 2014, presents innovations to the international automation industry that are based on changes of production technologies in the automobile industry.
Starting from 2020, European automobile manufacturers will be faced with stricter limiting values for CO² emissions. “German automobile manufacturers are working full steam to reduce CO² emissions. The development of highly efficient drive concepts, engine downsizing, new transmission generations and weight optimization have already resulted in significant improvements over the past years. In spite of all progress, additional efforts are required to comply with the restrictive EU guidelines,” according to Dr Ulrich Eichhorn, Managing Director of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA).
The topic of light construction is at the top of the priority list in this context. Less weight means less consumption and consequently fewer emissions. However, despite the simplicity of the theory, its implementation in production is difficult: light construction materials such as aluminum, magnesium and CFRP are much more expensive than steel. And: their processing requires new technologies and manufacturing processes.
Technological Change in Full Swing
A look into the BMW Leipzig Plant – the pioneering electric vehicle i3 is being developed there – reveals the radical production differences compared to conventional automobile manufacturing. The vehicle architecture is based on a completely new concept. The i3 is separated horizontally. The passenger compartment, the life module, is on the drive module, which contains the complete drive including batteries. The chassis is made of an aluminum frame, while the high-strength and ultralight passenger compartment is made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic. Both modules are glued together after their complete assembly. This bonding technology has decisive advantages and is perfectly suited for binding different materials.
Certainly, the prestige project BMW i3 has a long way to go from a production point of view before the vehicles can be manufactured in mass production. Light automobile construction is on the agenda for all models and goes hand in hand with material combinations and new materials as well as machining and joining processes. Now, system integrators as well as robot and component manufacturers are all challenged to create the technical production requirements for OEM and TIER 1 with bundled innovation energy.
New Applications – New Robots
Everything could already be seen clearly at AUTOMATICA 2012. Not only the major industry players ABB, Fanuc, Kuka and Yaskawa presented pioneering developments, but also other manufacturers provided surprises with technology highlights for light automobile construction.
For example, Stäubli exhibited a newly developed milling robot, which is designed specifically for machining reinforced carbon composite materials. “CFRP machining has its own laws. Fast, precise robots with a considerable work range are in demand here. The presentation of our CFRP machining robot at AUTOMATICA generated considerable interest. The machines have been in use at OEMs and component suppliers since then, both in plastics and CFRP machining,” according to Manfred Hübschmann, Managing Director at Stäubli Robotics.
Innovative Bonding Solutions in Demand
Plastics, CFRP, magnesium, aluminum – the use of multiple materials in light automobile construction not only requires new technologies for machining them, but also for processing them. Bonding technology is emerging as the big winner here. According to the estimates of experts, the quantity of adhesives – which is already around 20 kilograms per vehicle – is to increase by up to one-third in the medium-term. While only glass panes were glued at one time, the bonding applications in automobile manufacturing are used in all areas of bodywork today from assembly to functional and design elements.
As a result, the industry has been working on innovative procedures in the area of bonding and sealing applications for years. The robot manufacturers are of course able to realize reliable process solutions for standard applications. Despite that, users still see potential for process engineering optimizations. Technologies are in demand, which do not place any requirements on the fitting accuracy of the bonding partners and ensure a constantly high process speed.
Such requirements can only be fulfilled with innovative bonding systems, in which the high-tech components of robots as well as proportioning and sensor technology form a perfect overall system. Inline measurement of the panel gaps, real-time control of proportioning quantities as well as the process speed of robots, but also the development of new, environmentally compatible adhesives are pivotal industry topics.
Automated Composite Production at AUTOMATICA 2014
Automation in the production of lightweight components is a pivotal topic at AUTOMATICA 2014, above all in the area of composites. The special exhibition “Automated Composite Production” and the “Industrial Composites Production Conference” in the East Press Center from 5 until 6 June will examine state-of-the-art technology for increasing process speed and reducing production costs.
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