Whenever engineers think about flexibility, aluminum-framed modular conveyors and workstations often come to mind. Most people don’t think of an entire automotive assembly line. But, Volkswagen AG recently opened a new line in South Africa that highlights the benefit of flexible assembly equipment.

Whenever engineers think about flexibility, aluminum-framed modular conveyors and workstations often come to mind. Most people don’t think of an entire automotive assembly line. But, Volkswagen AG (Wolfsburg, Germany) recently opened a new line that highlights the benefit of flexible assembly equipment.

The assembly line in Uitenhage, South Africa, which produces Golf, Jetta and Polo sedans, was supplied by Durr AG (Stuttgart, Germany). The FAStplant system is based on five preassembled and freely positionable modules that can be assembled quickly and easily, saving both time and money. Indeed, by using the modular system, Volkswagen was able to go from layout approval to installation in just 13 weeks, with 25 percent of that timeframe allocated to transporting the equipment from Germany to South Africa.

The FAStplant system is at the heart of the new conveyor system used on the chassis line at the Uitenhage plant, which builds about 100,000 vehicles a year and exports approximately 40 percent of its output. The flexible system can easily be extended or relocated as production needs shift.

Durr engineers developed the FAStplant system several years ago and have already installed it in a handful of car plants around the world. In addition to Volkswagen, the flexible system is used by Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors and Toyota.

FAStplant consists of preassembled conveyor modules that can be placed wherever desired and joined together to form an assembly line in just a few days. Because of the modular design, existing lines can easily be converted to new vehicle models as well as expanded, divided and shortened. FAStplant significantly reduces the time needed for planning and setting up assembly lines. Compared with conventional plants, up to 12 weeks can be shaved off start-up.

Each FAStplant module is a self-contained unit. The modules are made up of self-supporting structural steelwork, in addition to the mechanical and electrical elements of an overhead conveyor. Modules are preplumbed for air and electricity. Lighting is also integrated into the design.

“There is going to be an increasing need for intelligent solutions offering more flexible and quickly adaptable final assembly systems,” claims Ralf Dieter, CEO of Durr. “This was the assumption that led [us] to work on producing a really well thought out concept for modularizing all aspects of final assembly equipment.

“The initial idea arose from the realization that all the basic components of an assembly line, from steelwork to conveyor equipment to utility supply connections, could be manufactured as a standard module,” adds Dieter. “With three basic modules, one purely for transport purposes, one allowing for the integration of handling equipment and none designed as a curve element, it is possible not only to build complete lines but also to extend, shorten or relocate them. The fact that only a fork lift is needed to position the modules demonstrates just how easily.”