Tuesday 30 September 2014

ABB robots power Mini output at VDL Nedcar

Just as ABB robots provide the backbone of automation at BMW’s Plant Oxford in the UK, which has just started to build the Mini 5-door Hatch, so it is at VDL Nedcar in Born, Holland where ABB robots form the backbone of automation in the body-in-white shop.

According to sources, VDL Nedcar has nearly 1,000 robots on site, with most of them provided by the Swedish robot maker ABB. However, some robots have been shipped in by German automation specialist KUKA of Augsburg.

VDL Nedcar currently builds the 3-door Mini Hatch which is being manufactured in accordance with ISO/TS 16949, the stringent automotive quality standard.

This has been overlaid with BMW’s own manufacturing standards as well as expertise built up over the years at Plant Oxford. BMW’s production executives in Munich and Oxford have visited the Born plant on numerous occasions to ensure their requirements are met.

The plant is running at 360 jobs a day; working on the basis of a single shift, eight-hour day, would equate to 1,800 cars a week or 86,400 for a 48-week production year. The plant therefore is more than capable of producing at least 170,000 cars a year which gives scope for adding another Mini car line, or even a BMW car line.

The press shop, with its two Hitachi Zosen press lines, features a high degree of process control and comprehensive automation to guarantee the accuracy of the pressing operations and to ensure that the parts are available at the required moment and at the right place. Over 250 different parts are processed by the shop.

This is important for VDL Nedcar’s Just-in-Time delivery schedules, its batch processing systems and its EDI (electronic data interchange) logistics systems.

Thanks to the well-planned and well-managed production process, which includes a quick die-change capability, unscheduled downtime in the production process is kept to the minimum.

In the body shop, about 99 per cent of the work is automated with some 5,100 spot welds incorporated into each body shell. As the illustration below shows, part of the body-in-white activity is carried out on two floors.

About 1,000 robots spot weld, arc weld, pick and place the various assemblies including floorpans, bodysides, roofs, fenders, boot lids and closures.

The six KUKA robots are used for heavy-duty materials handling tasks, including precision handling of large components such as under-bodies and complete bodysides. It is likely the ABB robots were part of a large single order for robots that also included new machines destined for Plant Oxford.

In final assembly VDL Nedcar’s highly trained specialists, together with some 15 robots fit as many as 3,000 different parts into the painted bodyshell to complete production.

VDL Nedcar has been part of the VDL Group since 2012 which has its headquarters in Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

In the year ended VDL group made a net profit of €88.85 million or 4.9 per cent of turnover, from a workforce of 9,216. Combined turnover amounted to €1.812 billion. The company had a cash flow of €135.9 million.

VDL Nedcar is hoping that the success it achieves with the Mini Hatch will lead to further subcontract work from BMW.

Since 1967, Nedcar has produced over 4,600,000 cars from 18 different models. The company claims to have capacity to produce 200,000 cars a year from two shifts but that was probably based on a robot population of 650 machines.

Since the introduction of the latest ABB machines the Born plant is probably capable of many more, suggesting there is scope to add at least one more subcontract model line from BMW.

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