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Welding with Robots

Every Second Counts with Automotive Tier 1 Supplier

The need for speed is still alive and well in the automotive Tier 1 supplier world. We witnessed this firsthand at Sodecia’s Global Technology and Automation Center (GTAC) facility in London, Ontario, Canada.

Just ask Rob Remillard, Engineering Manager at Sodecia in London, Ontario, Canada.

He and his team provide all the part assembly and part handling automation equipment for the company’s 48 worldwide plants that produce assemblies for all the major automobile OEMs. But speed is not always about shorter cycle times. In Remillard’s world, speed often concerns robot acceleration/deceleration reaction time: Basically, how fast a robot starts and stops. In fact, that start/stop reaction played a critical role in one of GTAC’s recent projects – and was a deciding factor robot selection.
Sodecia's core competencies include its Safety and Mobility Group, which produces such components as seat belt height adjustors and Cross Car Beam assemblies as well as the BIW Group which produce frame rails, rockers, floor pans and more. The company now produces these complete vehicle floor pan assemblies for body in white assemblies and performs all the necessary processing from stamping and welding to sealing and finishing.
Sodecia GTAC Building

Speed and Accuracy: Welding Automation for Tier 1

Automation makes every second count for automotive tier 1 supplier 
For such projects, GTAC starts with necessary volumes/yearly quantities and all other part data. With these data in hand, GTAC determines how best to automate all the processes to produce the parts as quickly and efficiently as possible. For example, a part may have a volume of 196,000 units per year, and the shop will then work back from that production number to determine how many parts it must produce during a three-shift operation and that a system will need to output within a certain time frame.
KUKA robots at Sodecia GTAC

“We then determine how many robots are needed to do all the processes on the part in that amount of time,” explained Remillard. “How many will it take to do the welding and apply all the sealant, how many parts an operator can load in that amount of time and so on. We will engineer a process with the minimum number of robots, operating stations and other systems and run the automation as fast as needed to meet the target cycle time.

GTAC’s current automotive floor pans project is quite large, divided into four stages and six main cells. Each cell uses eight robots, two unload robot cells, plus nine robots to perform sub assembly and other miscellaneous tasks. The most recent stage of the project involves two main cells and eight robots to do spot welding, sealant and stud welding, and each pan requires about 700 welds.

Automation cell with KUKA robots at Sodecia GTAC

All the robots used in the floor pan project are from KUKA Robotics

According to Remillard, reaction time, positioning accuracy and speed are the key reasons that GTAC uses KUKA robots. In fact, he conducted a study among several robot OEMs, starting on paper and based on documentation, then actually bringing the three finalist robots into their facility for side-by-side brand comparisons. KUKA was clearly the correct choice.
Rob Remillard, Engineering Manager at Sodecia

It’s the way they construct their robots...  They’re like tanks – strong, stable, reliable, and they can accelerate and decelerate faster than any other robot I’ve seen.

Rob Remillard
“It’s the way they construct their robots,” he said. “They’re like tanks – strong, stable, reliable, and they can accelerate and decelerate faster than any other robot I’ve seen. In our business, when we do weld after weld after weld with small moves in between, the KUKA acceleration/deceleration reaction time is exceptionally fast, within milliseconds, as are their positioners. This saves us a significant amount of time per part just in signal reaction time, and KUKA’s signal processing time is one-fiftieth of the competition.”
KUKA robots at Sodecia GTAC
Remillard went on to note that the problem with slim, less-robust robots has to do with payload. In the floor pan cell, GTAC moves loads up to 210 kg, so its robots must be built to move that much weight around easily without being affected by the involved inertia forces that result from fast, abrupt stops and starts. “With KUKA, there is little if any ramping-up-to-speed time or coming-to-a-stop time. They do it practically instantaneously,” he said.

KUKA’s control system was another factor in Remillard’s robot decision-making process.

Its wide-open design meshes with GTAC’s needs perfectly. It allows GTAC to take advantage of all available functionality and easily perform a lot of operations on their own without assistance from KUKA. Additionally, KUKA's team provides GTAC with spot-ready or arc-ready packages – essentially plug and play – and enables the shop to easily incorporate the robots into their automated cells without having to mount their own welding guns or integrate other components.
Within the floor pan cell, the KUKA robots include KR IONTEC and KR QUANTECs, along with KP1 and KP3 Positioners. The production process starts when operators load the KUKA KP3 positioner with floor pan sections. The positioners bring the parts into the cell, where multiple robots spot weld and apply adhesive. After welding is complete, a robot moves the assembly to a pedestal station for drawn arc stud welding. In a unique operation within the cell, one KUKA robot hands off an assembly to another robot.
Robots handling and welding at Sodecia
GTAC's customers are all of Sodecia’s facilities for automotive production, but GTAC is now also offering its engineering and integration services to other non-automotive customers in different markets as well. One such sector is the agriculture industry.

“For us at GTAC, and because we are starting out and basically still doing a lot of internal work, our goal at the end of the day is not just to develop a process that works, but to make our customers better, more efficient and more cost effective,” said Remillard. “Whether that’s Sodecia or a new outside customer, they come to us with a need to make a part, and while some integrators will offer the bare minimum when it comes to a process to produce that part, we aren’t like that."
Rob Remillard, Engineering Manager, Sodecia

GTAC has set standards across the board and applies all that we’ve learned from past projects. Plus, we don’t skimp or compromise on the equipment we use, and for us, the standard is now KUKA.

Rob Remillard
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