WAYNE - New programmable tooling invented by the Ford Body Assembly team together with an outside supplier is enabling the company to be more flexible than ever before.
Body construction has long been a limiting factor in any plant’s flexibility. Under traditional systems, unique tooling is required to weld each individual vehicle bodystyle.
The new programmable equipment – currently in use at Michigan Assembly Plant – is allowing the company to run multiple bodystyles down the same production line without requiring considerable downtime for changeover of tooling.
“The new technology eliminates the need to replace model-specific tooling for locating, clamping and welding body sides,” said Jim Tetreault, vice president, North American Manufacturing. “It saves time and limits disruption to the plant’s operations.”
Ron Ketelhut is the chief engineer who led development of the tooling.
“We took these little robots and where we traditionally had a lot of clamps and other traditional units to hold parts together while we were welding them, now we use a robot to do it,” he explained. “It is great because the robot is programmable whereas the other clamps weren’t. So you can reprogram the robot for a different vehicle without having to go into the tooling and physically change the parts.”
The robots can adapt to vehicles ranging in size from small B cars to larger SUVs.
“In addition, we can do more programs because we’re spending less money on building new tools,” said Ketelhut.
Because fewer tools are needed, the new technology reduces the floor space necessary to accommodate the equipment by half, freeing up space to bring additional work into the plant. It also reduces the capital investment needed for future models and increases the flexibility or future-model top-hat integrations.
“It gives us the opportunity in the future to change the products faster, which is a huge advantage and good for the customer,” said Ketelhut.
Ketelhut says the programmable robots will be used next at Louisville Assembly Plant, which is undergoing renovation.
“Flexibility is the key to competitive manufacturing,” he said. “And we will continue to look for innovative ways to take our plants to new levels.”