Gear-boxes take the lead with new production line

Ford has shown its leadership by implementing the largest PC-controlled assembly line in the European automotive industry. A new assembly line at Ford’s Halewood Transmission Plant uses an Open Automation System from Cutler-Hammer. The £6.5 million line was built for Ford by project partner Ingersoll-Rand and currently produces over 2000 gearboxes a day for Ford […]

Ford has shown its leadership by implementing the largest PC-controlled assembly line in the European automotive industry. A new assembly line at Ford’s Halewood Transmission Plant uses an Open Automation System from Cutler-Hammer. The £6.5 million line was built for Ford by project partner Ingersoll-Rand and currently produces over 2000 gearboxes a day for Ford Puma, Fiesta and Escort cars worldwide.

Josephine Robinson, manufacturing engineer at Ford Halewood explains why Ford wanted to replace the assembly line: “The original assembly line was built in 1978 and in its time met both manufacturing and customer needs, but as car design and manufacturing techniques have changed, the line became outdated in terms of customer and operator needs. Ford also recognised the need to increase capacity and quality whilst reducing costs in an increasingly competitive market.”

For the past two decades a programmable logic controller (PLC) based system has been the only option for controlling an automotive assembly line. In a typical application, all control devices are wired to the PLC, resulting in complex wiring and a system that is hard to set up, troubleshoot and change.

The aim was to deliver a process improvement in manufacturing lag time by cutting the number of gearboxes rejected at the end of the line and reducing unplanned downtime.

“Gearbox design is continually changing and improving, so we needed an assembly line that can keep up,” said Robinson. The IB5 line at Ford’s Halewood plant uses an Open Automation System based on 80 Cutler-Hammer D720 touch screen industrial PCs, with Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, connected together on a DeviceNet standard local network. Using the Cutler-Hammer Open Automation System has enabled us to realise a 25% increase in production to over 2000 gearboxes a day,” said Robinson. An important element in reducing downtime has been ongoing development for the IB5 line project.

Cutler-Hammer Open Automation Systems Tel: 01234 267433