12 November, 2018

Digital transformation and the automotive sector

17 May, 2018

Parker-Bates has witnessed that some manufacturers are even at a point now where customers can configure their own car specifications, place an order on line and that order then goes through to the dealer at which point the specifications are sent to the plant for manufacture. “So, the customer is effectively creating the job card for the workers on the shop floor,” he says. “On this evidence, I think that automotive manufacturers are very close to realising, or have already realised to a large extent, some of the core ideals that industry 4.0 promises.”

Complementary robotics

And what of robotics? Stuart Cheyne, team leader – automotive, SMC Pneumatics (UK) Ltd. comments that the density of robotics within the automotive sector is particularly high. However, he adds that it is very much the case that robotics complement and work alongside other types of automation and more traditional fluid power technology. “Certainly for tasks such as welding, adapted cylinders are required to clamp things in place before a robot arrives to weld things together – so there will always be a need for things such as valves, clamp cylinders and filter regulators etc.,” he says.

We often also hear discussions concerning whether robotics and automation in general will have the effect of displacing humans in the workplace, but Cheyne doesn’t believe this is so. Rather, in his view, it is a case of robots working alongside people. “However, there will increasingly be a need to up-skill people to work in collaboration with robots and other types of automation technology,” he adds. “Ultimately, however, humans will always be needed to do the things robots can’t do – they will also be needed to control and maintain the robots and other automation equipment.”

Embedded intelligence

How can pneumatic or electro-pneumatic equipment systems contribute to automotive manufacturers desire for greater optimisation on the shop floor? Parker-Bates makes the point that pneumatic/electro-pneumatic solution manufacturers are embedding more and more intelligence into devices; in this way, they are becoming simpler to use, more flexible and more ‘plug and work’. “So, doing much of the configuring and programming up front often makes the devices intelligent enough to simply hook onto a network and start communicating via ethernet or OPC UA for standardised data transfer without a lot of input needed from the user,” he says. “This enables equipment and technologies supplied by multiple vendors to be connected to a single network.”

As an example, Parker-Bates explains that Festo’s recently launched Motion Terminal is a universal, programmable platform for highly flexible and adaptive automation with digitised pneumatics. “It is a software-controlled valve terminal where the valves can be configured to perform a specific task at a certain point in the machine cycle. It can then be reconfigured as part of the plc program for the next stage. For example, at a given point in the cycle it might be important that a cylinder reaches the end of its stroke within a set time. At another point it might need to achieve a set position somewhere mid stroke within a millimetre or so in terms of accuracy.”

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