Assembly in Action: Tool Changers Play Central Role
June 19, 2007
Central to Chrysler’s lean conversion has been the ability to equip its robots with automatic tool changers, so that the company can quickly and reliably change out end effectors.
In recent years, Chrysler Group (Auburn Hills, MI) has placed increasing emphasis on flexibility in order to compete in a tough global market. In particular, the company has committed itself to reconfiguring its newer assembly processes so that it can build multiple product types on a single line.
Central to this effort has been Chrysler’s ability to equip many of its robots with automatic tool changers, so that they can quickly and reliably change out their end effectors.
For example, at its recently upgraded assembly plant in Belvidere, IL, Chrysler installed approximately 700 robots from ABB Ltd. (Zurich, Switzerland) and 237 master-side and 576 tool-side heavy automation tool changers from ATI Industrial Automation (Apex, NC). In operation, the master-side tool changers are installed at the end of the company’s robotic arms, while the tool-side “plates” are attached to various different end effectors, including everything from grippers to welders. The robots use this tool-side component, which can include routing for everything from I/O to hydraulic fluid to compressed air, to both pick up and manipulate the different tools.
Thanks to this increased flexibility, the Belvidere assembly line currently assembles three different vehicle types-the Dodge Caliber, the Jeep Compass and the Jeep Patriot. As an added bonus, the plant’s recent refit cost Chrysler Group about 30 percent less than it would have in the past, in part because it was able to reuse a substantial amount of existing equipment.
“We are now starting to see the results of the flexible manufacturing process that we believe is a competitive advantage,” says Frank Ewasyshyn, executive vice president of manufacturing at Chrysler Group. “Thanks to Belvidere’s ability to build multiple models off one assembly line, we expect the production of three all-new models to cost significantly less than the initial investment we made in the plant to build one product.”
Automatic tool changers are available in a number of sizes and models, which handle both large and small payloads. The ATI line, in particular, employs a double-taper locking piston in combination with two locating pins to provide high-cycle performance and repeatability. An integrated locking mechanism ensures that the tool-side plate remains attached to the robot, even in the event of pneumatic pressure loss. Different electrical, pneumatic and fluid modules are available to accommodate a wide range of applications.
For more on tool changers, call 919-772-0115 or visit www.ati-ia.com.