Q: As a component manufacturer within the automotive industry I am concerned about the increasingly litigious environment in which we operate. Can automation technology help to minimise the risk?
A: (David Fray – product manager for PLCs & Tightening Components) (email@example.com)
Process safety has always been an integral part of manufacturing considerations. However, with companies operating in an increasingly global market, legal trends that have only been apparent in other countries are fast becoming a reality to all. Litigation within the automotive supply chain, whether it be from the consumer, the vehicle manufacturer or tier one supplier is becoming a real issue for the industry.
Any fault detected within a manufactured product is traced back through the supply chain until the reason for the defect is found. Therefore, it’s essential that each company within that chain can show data following its manufacturing process.
In the automotive industry, where safety standards are perhaps at their most stringent, production engineers need to beware of litigation as much as corporate lawyers. Indeed, the cost of recalling vehicles can be enormous – in terms of reputation as well as money.
Intelligent tooling plays a key role in reducing the risk of litigation. Most operations can now be programmed down to the last detail, critical safety information is relayed back to a PC and faults can be detected immediately.
Increasingly, component manufacturers are using such systems to operate the manufacturing process in a way that allows complete control of their actions and then records and stores the information. Without this control, the risk of error is increased, and the technology is not there to record the problem for future reference. For example Bosch’s latest controller uses intuitive graphical user interaction to make programming and subsequent reprogramming a lot easier (as well as improving the operation interface).
Perhaps more important, though, is the necessity for manufacturing flexibility without compromising reliability, an issue addressed by VW in the manufacture of its new Golf and Passat in East Germany.
The vehicle manufacturer needed a tool that could not only be used in chassis assembly, but also in the final assembly. In both cases the ability to work within often confined spaces was a further consideration.
The solution came in the form of a range of hand held `smart’ tools that provided flexibility and included a number of interfaces for problem-free direct output of actual and nominal data to a PC.
These were used particularly successfully in door bolting, where documentation was necessary even in the basic chassis stage. Using this system, the tightening data (both torque and rotation angle) was recorded during the bolting process, and immediately made available for documentation. This documentation was then stored with the date, time, and vehicle number, and could be read with a barcode scanner.
From this information the program can automatically detect the right model type – for example, three or five doors – and the appropriate smart tool is selected.
Flexibility and process safety are also essential in the final assembly process where operations for fitment of steering wheels, doors, drive trains and seat belts are completed. Here, the manufacturer can benefit from the combination of smart tools and powerful data technology that offers connection to superordinate, plant-internal computer systems. The user can then be provided with a modern, high performance system that stands up to the demands of automobile production in terms of process safety.
It is only with the use of intelligent tooling that flexibility within the manufacturing process can be combined with a reliable system that will perform to an exact specification.
While intelligent tooling does not claim to be the panacea against the risk of product litigation, its use can provide component manufacturers with evidence and assurance that their products meet increasingly stringent quality standards.