Open network solution for automotive manufacturer

17 August 2012

CC-Link fieldbus is playing a pivotal role in building around 1200 Ford Mustang’s every day at a manufacturing plant. Each car travels around 20km through a robotised and automated production process at the US-based plant.

Engineers at the AutoAlliance manufacturing plant have been automating their processes for generations, so gave a great deal of consideration to a new plant network when the time came to rebuild the Mustang production line. The objective was to achieve a new level of simplicity in terms of production line set-up and commissioning, as well as ongoing reliability.

The production lines incorporate around 500 robots, which need to work in a co-ordinated fashion. Most are welding machines while others apply seals, dampers and accessories or are associated with the painting and finishing processes. Other elements include the intelligent conveyors, lifts, hoists, turntables, automated inspection stations.

Making all of this work synchronously was a challenge, for which the engineers specified CC-Link as the preferred fieldbus. The high-speed open network technology allows field devices of different makes to communicate with one another, leaving the user free to specify the most appropriate equipment for each part of the process. It also has other useful attributes, such as the automatic rerouting of signals if wiring is reconfigured or disrupted.

The AutoAlliance engineers chose CC-Link for its ability to network over distances up to 13.2km which means that even the longest production lines can be served by a single network.

CC-Link now forms the communications backbone of the facility, starting with the variable frequency drives that provide speed control for the network of conveyors – ensuring that each section of car body is exactly where it’s needed on-time, every time. The same fieldbus also looks after all automation signalling throughout assembly and welding operations.

The communications system is configured with five CC-Link network masters in control. One links the 125 control panels of the Mustang line (plus a similar number on an adjacent Mazda 6 line) with the PLCs within the body shop assembly cells. The remaining four control the robots and materials handling equipment.

Also within the body shop, the same CC-Link handles controls for the jig bed that holds and folds large sections of the auto body, while coordinating all the robots within this manufacturing cell.

CC-Link ensures precise starts and stops for every robot movement as each positions, welds and moves car body parts. It also enables the robots to communicate their positions to one another and thus avoid collisions.

On the paint line too, the system provides the automation network for the fleet of paint robots, and for five inverter drives controlling fans on the associated air treatment and exhaust plant, with its incineration units and catalytic oxidisers.

The ease of assembly line start-up and reliability of CC-Link has translated into a highly productive manufacturing facility. The speed at which these new lines were installed and commissioned resulted in significant savings in comparison to other networked systems used previously.

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