Future proofing assembly automation

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ATM Automation is challenging the traditional concept of special purpose machines, often designed to manufacture a limited range of parts, by using innovative fixture concepts and a mix of technologies. The latest systems built by ATM for the assembly and test of automotive components are highly re-configurable, allowing the systems to be used on new and alternative ranges of parts with a minimum of re-investment.

The automotive industry is a mainstay for many of the UK’s robot and special purpose machine suppliers. The ongoing programme of face-lifts for current vehicles together with the introduction of completely new models have led to constant growth in the use of robots, as their inherent flexibility allows them to be used time and time again.

On the other hand, special purpose machines, used to perform the tasks which robots on their own cannot, have tended to be much less flexible, often requiring extensive re-design and re-building to enable them to produce parts for new model variants. The latest systems from ATM however, offer a highly flexible approach to component assembly and testing, allowing automotive component suppliers to re-use these machines with an absolute minimum of re-design and much reduced additional investment.

ATM director Sabir Hirji explains: “Our aim is to provide the highest levels of flexibility, which in turn allows our customers to maximise the return on their investment. Our systems therefore are based on a combination of standard modules that have been designed to be easily re-configurable. As an example, the fixtures used are based upon simple location pins and tooling blocks rather than being cast or machined from solid. This not only reduces costs but also makes it much quicker and easier for the end user to configure the machine for new part types. Vacuum sensing is used to check for part presence, as an effective and simple alternative to conventional proximity sensors and all of the high-value elements of the machine are integrated in such a way that they can always be re-used with little or no modification.”

These principles have been adopted in a new suite of two machines used to assemble and test a range of plastic-based automotive under-bonnet parts. The main elements of the first machine are a SCARA robot, which is easily re-programmable, a four-position rotary indexing unit, designed with quick-change fixture locations, and a vibratory bowl feeder, which also has quick change tooling elements to enable it to feed parts which may be a different length or diameter. The machine currently feeds steel pins, which are in turn transferred to a press station by the robot. Once inserted into the moulding, a 10kg push out test is applied to each of the eight pins and the results recorded. The machine has been configured in this way to allow it to be easily adapted to the next generation of parts which, although likely to be of a similar configuration, could potentially be a different shape or size and may require a different number of pins.

Extended life cycle

The second machine is used for further assembly operations before performing a combination of flow and leak tests on the finished parts. This machine uses the same design principles as the first, with all of the elements configured for simple and quick changeover to accommodate new part types. Sabir Hirji concludes: “These design concepts will give end users much greater confidence that their machine will have a life cycle beyond that of the current vehicle model. This means less investment will be required for the production equipment needed for future programmes generating savings which can contribute to a competitive cost per part”.

To find out more about reconfigurable special purpose machines from ATM Automation, please go to

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