Production at Italian automotive supplier PMC is automated. More than 100 robots from KUKA, mainly from the KR QUANTEC family, ensure smooth and reliable production of vehicle body parts in modular robot cells. The implementation was an engineering masterpiece: just seven months were available for design, installation and start of production of the robot cells.
Production of vehicle body parts in modular robot cell
The heart of the Italian automotive industry beats in Turin. The Fiat Group was founded here in 1899, and the Lingotto district has been significantly shaped by it. It is the home of the Lingotto building, which has a test track on its roof and was once the largest automotive factory in the world. Fiat Chrysler – which now belongs to Stellantis, the world’s fourth largest automaker – still produces cars in Turin. One of the factory buildings, in which Maserati manufactures the “Quattroporte” and “Ghibli” models, is only a few hundred meters away from KUKA’s Italian subsidiary.
Similarly, there are two PMC production halls just a few hundred meters from the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) plant in Melfi in southern Italy. The Italian automotive supplier specializes in the production of vehicle body parts and is involved in the construction of the FIAT 500X, Jeep Renegade and Jeep Compass passenger car models, among others. The production operations at PMC are largely automated: more than 100 robots from KUKA work in robot cells. They apply sealant, weld, perform quality checks and machine components.
Wanted: a strategic and reliable partner
The beginning of cooperation between PMC and KUKA was marked by the manufacturer’s search for a strategic and reliable partner to implement a new automated production line. The demands that KUKA was confronted with was challenging. “In short: a 54-robot line with only six manual operators had to be able to handle the requirements of two different vehicle models,” notes KUKA Manager Osvaldo Casetta in describing the initial situation. The toughest challenge here: the tight deadline. PMC envisaged a maximum of seven months from the start of design to the first produced part – an extremely short time span.
Modular robot cells: just-in-time, with no defects!
There were also further important points to consider: “Production was to be designed for 20 shifts per week and adapted to the needs of the customer, Fiat.” Just-in-time production only allowed for a short maintenance break on Sunday mornings. “The buffer for the main production line did not allow for more leeway,” explains Casetta. “Our focus was accordingly on maximum availability of the robot cells; PMC could not afford downtime under any circumstances.” In brief: “We wanted an automated production line with a zero-defect strategy in the form of a turnkey solution,” says Vincenzo Marchesiello, production engineer at PMC in Melfi.
Smart software for the robot cells: trials covering all critical scenarios
KUKA had just the ticket for PMC with the right automation portfolio. The modular robot cells – consisting of cells, robots, application packages, user-friendly software and the associated servicing – matched PMC’s “just-in-time” philosophy. In order to be able to implement all the specifications by the start of production, the KUKA team simulated the future production environment down to the smallest detail, thereby optimizing the processes and workflows. And there are quite a few of those at the PMC plant: nuts and brackets are welded onto inner body side components, sealants are applied and inspection processes assure the high quality of the work performed. Even the handling of components between the modular robot cells is largely automated. Assistance is provided by multi-axis turnover units that bring massive body parts into the correct position.
Robot cells weld tiny parts onto large parts
In conjunction with the sophisticated control software, tiny parts such as seat belt reinforcements, nuts for electronic cabling or pins for fastening interior plastic trim are welded onto large parts such as wheelhouses. In the end, this is how the entire body interior for the three vehicle models is produced. Less than seven months after the contract was awarded, PMC delivered the first components to Fiat – produced with the aid of the KR QUANTEC robots.
A partnership that lasts – just like the automated production lines
The automated production line pays dividends for PMC. “Thanks to KUKA’s modular welding cells and the support of the planning team, we are able to keep pace with the ever-increasing market demands,” emphasizes PMC’s Marchesiello. Consistently high quality combined with maximum productivity and low costs – this is the mix that has made PMC’s collaboration with KUKA such a success.
Consequently, PMC is also counting on KUKA’s support for its plant in Brazil: a total of 78 robots from Augsburg work in the automated production line. All parties involved define the collaboration as a partnership of success. “We will soon be expanding production once again, and we’re looking forward to having KUKA back on board for that,” says Marchesiello.
The modular robot cells from KUKA have given us the production stability we were hoping for. We were thrilled with how quickly KUKA was able to implement our requirements.