ATM assembly systems enhance component tracking & traceability

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The “demand driven” nature of the automotive supply chain, where there are increasing levels of personalisation within a vehicle, means that the suppliers to the major OEM’s now require automation with greater levels of flexibility and higher levels of machine intelligence to handle the number of variants that need to be produced. ATM’s latest assembly systems, used to produce a variety of Jaguar / Land Rover interior trim components, now incorporate multiple technologies including machine vision, 1 and 2 D bar code scanners and an array of other sensors and scanners to verify and validate each and every operation as the build sequence progresses.

Tracking and traceability has always been a key part of the automotive supply chain, but with the ever increasing diversity of models, trim materials, trim colour and equipment options, the need to be able to monitor, control and validate each and every step in the assembly process has never been more crucial. Add to this the need for JIT production and build sequencing and there is little room for error.

With a track record of over 40 years working in partnership the UK’s automotive Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, ATM has positively embraced the opportunity to seek out and implement new technologies which will ensure the levels of quality and consistency required within the automotive sector. The latest assembly systems manufactured by ATM therefore incorporate a diverse range of technologies.

Interior trim components are invariably assembled manually. This means that it is essential that the operator follows the correct sequence, uses the correct parts and actually assembles all of the required items each and every time. The assembly process begins with the operator scanning a ‘Ticket’ from the OEM that contains all of the information relating to the vehicle for which these parts are destined. This information is used to automatically ‘set up’ the assembly station, selecting the appropriate programme within the system PLC. The operator is informed of which hand of component is to be produced; LH or RH, and also which colour combinations and options are required for that specific assembly. The operator scans each individual part prior to placing it to the assembly station to verify that it is the correct item.

Once loaded to the assembly nest, additional sensors are used to verify part present, correct location and correct colour. A machine vision system is also used within the system to distinguish between vinyl and leather variants, something which is difficult to achieve with other sensor types.

Final assembly label

This process of selecting, scanning and loading components continues until the assembly process is complete, at which point the PLC then initiates the printing of a final assembly label. This label contains the component part number plus a unique assembly sequence number, together with the time, date and information on which operator produced the part. The operator then attaches this label to the part, and once the presence of the label is verified by the system, the assembly will then be dot marked to validate the assembly process, and the clamps retaining the part within the assembly station will be released, allowing the part to be unloaded, safe in the knowledge that the item is complete in every respect.

ATM is continuing to develop the potential for tracking, traceability and validation within their assembly systems, and current developments also include the acquisition and storage of machine vision images which will be captured using multiple cameras within the system. This concept, in conjunction with the other sensing technologies used, effectively combines assembly verification and inspection within the same machine.

ATM director Sabir Hirji explains: “We are constantly seeking new ways to use the technologies available to us, whilst at the same time enhance the performance and capabilities of the systems we provide to our customers. We are fully committed to the principles of tracking and traceability and believe that developing the use of machine vision in this way, to capture images of the assembly process and provide them to our customer as a data file, not only enhances the capability of our systems, but adds a new dimension to the tracking and traceability process”.

As a supplier of robot and assembly systems into the automotive sector, ATM has forged close working relationships with many of the prominent suppliers of sensing and machine vision products, allowing the company to provide systems which incorporate the most appropriate combination of technologies. ATM assembly systems are also used to produce Instrument Panels, Door Panels, Centre Consoles and other Load Space components for many of the UK Tier 1 and 2 suppliers.

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