Jaguar benefits from advanced robot-based sealing system from ABB

ABB, the leading power and automation technology group, has transformed traditional car body seam sealing, soundproofing and under body sealing operations at the Jaguar assembly plant in Castle Bromwich, by installing a fully automated six-axis robot-based facility.

The investment by Jaguar Cars Limited represents a move away from intensive manual labour-based operations to a robot-based system incorporating eight ABB industrial robots.

Installation began in February 2005 and the facility, which has a throughput of 43 vehicles per hour, has been in full operation since June 2005. The facility is fully automated with no operator intervention during normal operating conditions and has a high percentage of ‘no-touch’, which means that minimal post operation remedial sealing activities are required, as is normally the case with traditional automated sealing operations.

Commenting on the impact of the automated seam sealing and sound deadener facility, ABB senior project manager Robert Low says: “The automation of seam sealing and associated operations is a major investment in the Castle Bromwich plant, and a significant and timely step forward in optimising the efficiency of the Jaguar paint sealing process. The investment has helped establish consistently high levels of quality while almost eliminating what was a labour intensive and unpleasant job.”

ABB in the UK, working in close collaboration with colleagues in Germany, was responsible for the full turnkey operation including design, project management, manufacture and installation. This included sourcing and installing the car body conveyor, roller beds, spray booths, robots, track motion, sealant dispensing systems, sealant storage system, guarding and control. ABB has also provided extensive ongoing local support including: provision of service parts, training, start-up assistance and a site-resident engineer. 

Operation of the facility is split into three separate ‘sealing’ stations. The facility can process the complete range of Jaguar car bodies, including the XK sports car, the S Type and the XJ saloon, both standard and long wheel base. 

The skid-mounted car bodies pass through three stations. At the first station, the three seam sealing robots spray a PVC plastisol material at a temperature of 30°C within the interior and luggage compartment spaces of the body, to seal against water ingress and wind noise. Three IRB 4400 robots, which have a 45kg payload, are designed with an exceptionally long reach, which allows them to enter each car body to access body seams.

The robots are mounted on linear track systems to further increase their flexibility. Two of the robots conduct sealing operations from either side of the rear passenger compartment, then track forward along the track and access the forward passenger compartment, while the third robot tracks across the rear of the body, sealing the luggage compartment.

After seam sealing, the car bodies are transferred to the next station, where three IRB 4400 robots spray an epoxy-based, solvent-free NVH (Noise, Vibration & Harshness) material, at a temperature of 60°C, the purpose of which is to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. Spraying the sound insulation material is a breakthrough for Jaguar as previous methods involved the labour-intensive insertion of bitumen pads.

After seam sealing and sound insulation operations, the car bodies move on to an under body sealing cell, incorporating two IRB 2400L robots with a 10kg payload. As the body moves through the station, the robots carry out a combined seam sealing and under-body coating operation, applying the same PVC plastisol used for internal seam sealing.

Once the under-body sealing application and curing is complete, the car bodies move on for the application of primer, base coat and clear coat.

All eight robots are equipped with standard ABB DispensePac dispensing systems that incorporate both material conditioning and flow control. ABB SPA 400 (Swivel Pointer Applicator) spray guns are used throughout, each of which is equipped with three separate nozzle types that can be individually selected, depending upon the area to be sprayed. A wide ‘fan’ configuration may be required for coating areas, while seams may need a very narrow, flat stream, so the robots are able to switch instantly from one nozzle to another, all co-ordinated by the ABB robot controller.

Positional accuracy of each car body skid is plus/minus 15mm, which was not sufficiently precise for optimum quality. An integral vision system was incorporated that locates the actual position of the car body in relation to its ideal datum position, and then sends data to the robot controller to offset the positioning of the robots by the required margin. Additionally, the under-body robots are equipped with ‘conveyor tracking’ software and encoder input, so that they can determine the exact positional accuracy of the carrier as it moves through the station. If the carrier moves faster, slower or stops, the robot will offset its program to track the movement accordingly.

Robert Low sums up: “Jaguar was impressed by ABB’s engineering integrity and the quality of the ABB people involved in the project, and we have continued to support the project well after the production launch. The facility has been a great success and has realised the objectives Jaguar set for it; contributing to the development of the Castle Bromwich site and the paintshop process’ quality and efficiency.”

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