Smart Machines Help Streamline Electric Vehicle Production

Smart Machines Streamline EV Production

Streamline electric vehicle manufacturing with a more connected, data intensive approach

Electric vehicles (EV) are revolutionizing automobile production. In 2017, just four percent of vehicles sold were alternative fuel. Now, thanks to greater investment in technologies, automotive manufacturers will reach parity by 2023 and 54 percent of all new auto sales are expected to be battery powered by 2040. This exponential growth is a window of opportunity for automakers to find partners to innovate their EV manufacturing operations.

Increasing demand for EV means both established automakers and start-ups need to launch new plants or transform existing operations and infrastructures faster and smoother than ever before. New environmental mandates for reduced emissions, automobile trends, government rebates and the rise of ride-share services means automakers must develop the right EV strategy to be competitive and mitigate risk of a recall.

Automakers are calling for innovative solutions from suppliers throughout their entire supply chain to meet increased production demand. Whether you are a machinery OEM for EV automakers, a lithium battery manufacturer or a specialised OEM – producing battery winding machines, there is room throughout the entire EV supply chain to integrate new technologies and improve productivity.

The next transportation technology revolution is here. Technologies such as real-time data sharing, self-aware equipment and independent cart technology are just some of the ways that you can reduce your time to market.

The Future of Automotive Manufacturing is Already Here

Automakers and OEMs alike can benefit from leveraging new technologies to improve profitability. A leading Korean battery manufacturer recently invested in new manufacturing technologies to influence both the quality and energy capacity of a battery cell.

They required high speed and high precision rates to enhance their production capabilities and reduce defective rates, but the existing conveyor system was very limited. This battery maker was seeking a new solution that would meet their requirements, both now and in the future.

A detailed proof of concept study demonstrated the value and capabilities of the flexible, scalable automation platform from Rockwell Automation. The MagneMotion® Quick Stick® intelligent conveyor system provided a solution that was able to meet the end user’s requirements by providing increased throughput and a lower cost of ownership.

Automakers are planning to rollout of hundreds of new electric vehicle models over the next several years and are therefore focused on reducing manufacturing costs and maximising battery life. From battery-cell manufacture to vehicle assembly and throughout the entire supply chain there are opportunities to drive efficiencies and improve profitability for automakers.

As EVs continue to rapidly transform auto production, established automakers and start-ups need to launch new plants or transform existing operations faster and smarter than ever before. Automakers must have the right EV strategy to stay competitive, centered around a shift to data-driven manufacturing in a highly flexible and connected environment.

Leading enterprises are streamlining EV manufacturing with a more connected, data intensive approach, using solutions such as The Connected Enterprise. Adopting The Connected Enterprise approach has helped many global automakers maintain profitability through flexible manufacturing.

Leveraging smart devices, MES systems and analysis has led to improve business performance and a 70 percent reduction in safety downtime

Hirata Meets Growing EV Battery Demand

Hirata is a well-known and respected provider of production equipment and engineering services to manufacturers in the automotive industry.

The company uses a unique design methodology, the Assembly Cell System (ACS). ACS is an assembly line system that creates reliable production systems more quickly, at a lower cost with better performance than traditional systems. ACS has highly standardized modules, and by analysing the operation and function of each unit, machine and component, can accelerate production start-up.

The challenge faced by Hirata centres on the size of the custom electric vehicle battery production machines that it produces for customers. They must be smaller than traditional machines – as much as 30 percent smaller than the usual machine footprint required by this scale of production.

Hirata selected Rockwell Automation as a single vendor for the entire solution and since this was an industry first machine with extremely tight deadlines, the team needed to plan and manage challenges in real time, debugging the total system at the overseas end user’s location.

First Mass Production Line for EV Batteries

Hirata’s ACS system helped accelerate production start-up by shortening the time to install and qualify equipment. It also simplified the assembly line by standardizing parts to reduce space and ease maintenance. The system provided the flexibility to adapt readily to product changes or future assembly line changes.

Each ACS module is equipped with a range of functions adaptable to different manufacturing processes. Hirata originally started the machine design using standard cells of their ACS; however, because of the required machine footprint reduction, Hirata needed to use one ACS for multiple operations.

To accomplish this, Hirata analyzed the operation of each piece of equipment and took a new approach to incorporating up to four operations in one station. To realize this concept, Hirata deployed multiple (up to three) gantries into one ACS. The gantries were controlled by Kinetix 5700 servo drives that support a maximum of 23 axes.

Hirata designed the optimized axis architecture and programming with Rockwell Automation support and successfully created the smaller footprint, large scale, high-speed, high-precision and sophisticated production machine using the new ACS concept.

Click here to learn more about integrated solutions for electric vehicle manufacturing.

The machine connects to the end user’s manufacturing execution system (MES) through Ethernet so machine data can be utilized to support real-time remote diagnostics and maintenance. Hirata can access machine data from anywhere in the world, eliminating travel costs.

Rockwell Automation ControlLogix® controllers were attached to each cell to control the servo motor to move and assemble battery materials. For high performance and safety control, Hirata used ControlLogix L8 and GuardLogix® L7S controllers.

Kinetix 5700 servo drives with safe torque off function and safety Ethernet (CIP safety) help expand the value of integrated motion on EtherNet/IP. In addition, these servo drives can help reduce commissioning time and improve machine performance, offering the wiring simplicity and space savings Hirata needed to get the machine up and running faster.

To move the conveyer between the cells, Hirata used PowerFlex® 525 AC drives which feature an innovative, modular design to support fast and easy installation and configuration.

Meeting Growing EV Battery Demand

The metrics that are typically most important to Hirata include cycle time, operating rate and yield ratio. This time, Hirata also counted footprint reduction.

Standardization from Rockwell Automation products has improved total efficiency. Built-in add-on Instruction (AOI) capability reduced programming hours by around 30 percent. In addition, standardization products collaboration with Rockwell Automation reduced the machine footprint by 30 percent.

With support from Rockwell Automation Japan, the team can quickly deliver onsite support and shorten the start-up time by 10 percent. Hirata realized electric vehicle battery mass production as required by the end-user on time.

The results mentioned above are specific to Hirata’s use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

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