Electromobility is clearly on the rise. The automotive industry is offering its customers a fast growing portfolio of vehicles with fully electric or hybrid drive technology. As they are fully aware that traction batteries are key components, most of the established car manufacturers are investing in production lines for the battery packs in their own factories or at subsidiaries. There, supplied battery cells, control electronics, cooling systems and housings are assembled to form vehicle-specific traction batteries.
Rapid Change Requires Flexibility
While fully electric production vehicles are already leaving the production lines of the automobile makers, technologies used for storing electricity are being further developed at a fast pace. Progress in this field is still often made in leaps and bounds. Unlike classic starter batteries with their standardized sizes and form factors, the rechargeable batteries used in electric drive vehicles come in complex shapes tailored to fit individual car bodies. To save space and weight, they are often integrated with the vehicle’s undercarriage. This implies that they need to be adapted in increasingly short cycles to new generations of the cars they are meant to power.
“Contrary to classic drive train components, car manufacturers are still lacking experience as to how production quantities will develop. This requires a lot of flexibility that currently only AGV systems can provide”, says Kurt Ammerstorfer, Head of Sales, Product Management and Marketing at DS AUTOMOTION, a globally leading supplier of Autonomous Guided Vehicle (AGV) systems.
To Industry 4.0 by AGV
From base plate preparation to fitting the battery cell blocks and battery management systems as well as making all electrical connections to placing the hood, battery assembly usually involves 10 to 12 stations, typically with a very high degree of automation. Although many of them are enclosed robot cells, numerous operations are performed manually between them. Multiples of certain stations are installed to parallelize processes requiring cycle times beyond the customary three to five minutes such as initial charging of the battery packs.
Conventionally designed assembly lines with their permanently installed conveyor systems are lacking the flexibility required to react dynamically to the changeable requirements of battery assembly. There, assembling with high agility even the smallest batches is imperative. “For more than 30 years, DS AUTOMOTION has been developing driverless transport systems following the guiding principles of what is now referred to as Industry 4.0”, says Arthur Kornmüller, Managing Director of that innovative company based in Linz, Austria. “They allow quick and uncomplicated modifications of the paths an assembly travels during completion as well as the time spent at individual stations to fulfill new requirements.”
Agile Automation provides Adaptability
DS AUTOMOTION AGVs are already working in numerous installations at the battery production facilities of leading car manufacturers. For flexible assembly lines, the industry typically uses track-guided systems, considering it beneficial that their control system DS NAVIOS TrackGuide is based on Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) technology. As this is a de facto standard in the automotive industry, production and maintenance engineers there are familiar with this technology. AGV systems can be integrated seamlessly with the overall automation processes in battery assembly.
The vehicles follow magnetic stripes or induction loops laid in or bonded onto the floor. Aside of navigation purposes, the loops can also serve for permanently recharging the batteries in the vehicles, thus avoiding standstill for charging. Guiding lines that can be bonded to the floor as well as the control system’s programmability provide the AGV system with a lot of flexibility as they allow quick modifications of both the layout and the cruising characteristics.
Simple Intralogistics Integration
Some companies attempt at implementing a holistic approach according to Industry 4.0. They prefer integrating their battery assembly lines with their general intralogistics. For compatibility reasons, they prefer free-navigation systems. The DS NAVIOS FreeGuide management and control system for free-navigation AGVs calculates route segments and hands them down via Wi-Fi as individual driving jobs for autonomous execution by the AGVs. These systems do not require guiding tracks. They verify the route they pursue guiding aids such as floor-recessed magnets or laser reflectors mounted on walls or racks. They permanently check for adherence with the route to follow. The management and control system software is installed one hierarchical level above the individual machine PLCs. It communicates with MES and ERP systems to derive the optimal movement patterns from order data, material and machinery availability information.
DS AUTOMOTION AGV systems also communicate with other parts of production facilities. This allows AGVs for instance to enter into robot cells through light curtains without causing an unsafe access violation alert to stop the robots. This ensures maximum production efficiency as well as optimal protection for the workers.
The corridors between the assembly cells are often very narrow, requiring vehicles with a particularly high maneuverability. “In automotive traction battery production lines, the AGVs need to reverse into the cells, and frequently in narrow curves”, says Kurt Ammerstorfer. “As we look back on decades of experience with similar challenges, particularly in automotive industry environments, we can guarantee the flawless execution of this maneuver under all foreseeable operational conditions even for track-guided systems.”
Well-established in Electromobility
“Practically all of the German premium car manufacturers are using our systems in battery assembly”, says DS AUTOMOTION Managing Director, Manfred Hummenberger. “An AGV made in Linz will soon also be deployed for that purpose in the biggest automobile factory in the US.” Managers there probably had an easy choice as elsewhere in that same factory, DS AUTOMOTION AGVs have already been proving their flexibility and reliability for several years.
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