Modular and automated
Bietigheim-Bissingen, December 2017 – Trends such as highly automated driving and electromobility are leading to comprehensive changes in automotive production. This is particularly affecting the area of final assembly. Dr. Johannes Grobe, who is in charge of sales and marketing at Dürr's Paint and Final Assembly Systems division, explains the current trends and describes the different challenges they must meet together with new and long-time customers.
With the shift toward electromobility, new carmakers are entering the market. How would you describe Dürr's cooperation with these customers?
Here we have to differentiate. New EV OEMs require a high level of flexibility and out-of-the-box solutions. Cooperation between OEMs and Dürr is therefore all the more important. For an American electric vehicle manufacturer, for example, we have implemented an assembly concept on three levels, with a high level of automation and optimized use of space. Manufacturing cells with robots are connected via a highly dynamic conveyor system. Our motto was "design to manufacture". We reviewed everything together with the customer, from the initial idea through to the structure of the future vehicle with all its features: How does the vehicle structure affect production? What are the most efficient processes for this? Where do you have to take a completely new approach? Dürr was the systems provider in this complex project.
This manufacturer is planning large volumes. How about EV producers who initially want to keep things on a smaller scale?
We develop a complete layout, from plant engineering through to the details of individual sections. When dealing with companies that come to automotive production from an entirely different industry, our experience means we are often asked to provide consultancy work. Generally speaking, customers who are planning systems for smaller volumes do not initially see automation as the top requirement. This comes later, when their business becomes successful and they are ready to increase volumes. Dürr offers step-by-step concepts for any expansion phase: from the technically scalable pilot line through to highly automated assembly plants.
In what ways are modifications to final assembly lines for EVs more complex?
Brownfield projects have become far more demanding. Conventional OEMs have to produce models with different power trains in one line. This requires around 180 final assembly stations instead of 150 – but still within the same space. There are more and more new models with shorter product lifecycles. Experts predict that, by 2020, we will have 120 different EV models alone. This means a greater mix with different volumes. These are all aspects that must be taken into account when modifying plants. The general trend definitely reflects the shift from linked to convertible systems. High-volume models also require a higher level of flexibility. Product solutions such as a modular marriage line for conventional and electric vehicle models is currently being implemented.
How closely does Dürr work with OEMs to develop new concepts?
A German carmaker has started a project, aimed at developing the "assembly concept of the future". We are the only supplier involved in this. Together we are looking for a way to achieve maximum efficiency and flexibility. We are also having many discussions with individual manufacturers and meeting them for workshops. Customers greatly appreciate our expertise, which ultimately gives us the edge over our competitors.
What do you think are the areas in final assembly that are currently subject to the greatest changes?
Testing technology is definitely one of them. Vehicles are being equipped with more and more sensor technology to recreate human senses. This requires multi-sensor calibration and comprehensive test procedures. It is crucial that all sensors work together to ensure correct driving behavior. In the future, these test procedures will be fully automated. Dürr Assembly Products is currently working on a collaborative project to connect simulation systems with the real world. Of course, full automation is also an issue in filling technology. Filling systems offered by Dürr Somac, another subsidiary, are currently used in the battery cooling systems of several EV manufacturers.
Will future transport vehicles used in conveyor technology all be driverless?
That's the trend. With these AGVs (automated guided vehicles), assembly will be much more flexible and divided into modules. We at Dürr have also included them in our product range. Unlike other manufacturers, however, we can also take care of the system integration of AGVs, thanks to our domain know-how. We offer the right software for individual sections as well as for an entire production plant, as was the case for VW in Wrzesnia.
What is the usual percentage of Dürr products in final assembly?
On average, our products can cover up to 70 percent of our customers' final assembly infrastructure. This includes conveyor systems, glueing technology for windows and marriage, through to filling and testing technology in the end-of-line area.
Looking ahead, what will automotive final assembly look like in 10 to 15 years' time?
Carmakers are consistently working on modularization and thinking in terms of software solutions. These two principles will remain. Automation will continue to increase and the number of stations will be reduced.