Comau has designed and deployed a flexible Body-In-White (BIW) manufacturing solution for Alfa Romeo’s all-new Tonale, the first Alfa SUV of the new generation, meeting customer production targets, quality goals, and time-to-market objectives.
The new and enhanced 20 lines are designed to allow the automaker to assemble its mid-size Tonale in a random mix of up to 4 different versions while maintaining the desired throughput. Fully scalable, the solution lets the automaker produce multiple brands on the same line while allowing them to further expand production in the future.
Tasked with building five completely new lines and retooling 15 existing lines to accommodate the new vehicle, the Comau team deployed the production lines in record time despite multiple challenges. The SUV chassis is significantly larger than the compact car for which the line was originally designed, and the team was asked to make the necessary changes without sacrificing the production of either vehicle. Through simultaneous engineering, the team designed a transformation strategy that allowed the retooling operation to be executed in parallel with the existing activities, according to its “Zero Loss Launch” philosophy. Comau also worked on the lines during the plant’s natural downtime, thus minimizing any impact on production.
As part of the engineering team’s lean manufacturing approach, the automated and semi-automated production solution is based on the proprietary ComauFlex technology, nicknamed Butterfly, due to its agility and use of suspended robots. This setup allows Alfa Romeo to change or modify a specific vehicle model by adjusting the robot tooling, not the arrangement of the robots themselves. In addition to protecting the scalability of the customer’s initial investment, the solution is designed to enable the introduction of new models in the future for a fraction of the initial expenditure. Indeed, the entire system features 468 welding robots, 148 of which are entirely new and 320 taken from existing lines. The engineering team used advanced simulation tools during the development period, guaranteeing the best quality product and throughput.
In addition to allowing Alfa Romeo to perform the complex body shop processes with precision, the solution fully assembles the entire BIW from start to finish. With the aid of three different vision systems to aid the automated picking and positioning of pieces, the robots weld, fasten and perform other activities, including spreading the semi-structural adhesive on the parts and plasma cutting during the end-of-line activities. All said, the process involves the insertion of roughly 2,800 welding spots for each model.
With significant net output, Alfa Romeo can bank on substantial savings in terms of time, long-term costs, and production efficiencies. Moreover, because the solution is a fully modular system built around standard products combined within an expandable design framework, the automaker can quickly expand its manufacturing environment with limited impact on existing production.
“To join forces with a prestigious brand such as Alfa Romeo is an incredible opportunity to develop cutting-edge technologies. We are proud to see the tangible results of Comau’s field-proven expertise within the collaboration between two Italian examples of excellence,” explained Pietro Gorlier, Comau CEO. “Our commitment to unwavering quality is seen within the processes and products used to make the Tonale and allow us to ensure maximum value for the customer.”
“In supporting the Alfa Romeo brand in their product expansion, Comau has fully leveraged its longstanding experience in automation and smart manufacturing to deliver an unprecedented level of flexibility,” added Andrew Lloyd, Comau’s Chief of Engineering. “This innovative approach to implementing new technologies and retooling existing lines and equipment is a direct result of our commitment to offering increasingly scalable and sustainable solutions, helping our customers better meet their objectives today and tomorrow.”
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