Free run for automobile parts

A suspension track system at Ford in Saarlouis/Germany had to be extended. This is a typical case for VIPA.

There are not many brands that combine daily practicality and sportiness as strongly as Ford. The scope of automobiles ranges from the useful transit, the compact car, the family limousine right up to the motor sports. Whether roadster, Stock Car or Rally – Ford is a constant in many series and not only internationally: Also in the DTM, the Ford Mustang GT made the hearts of fans beat faster in the 90s with its massive sound and so reaching cult status. It is the same with the Ford Capri that rushed through the German economic miracle at the end of the sixties.

The Ford Capri was one of the first models which was produced at the location in Saarlouis, which was founded in1970.  At that time the region was still dominated by mining and steel industry. Today the automobile industry is one of the most important industrial sectors – and this is mainly due to Ford. More than 13 million Ford models have been produced here up to now. So this factory is one of the most efficient and productive automobile factories in Europe.

Flexible production is essential

The industrial complex around Ford is the largest employer in the German federal state of Saarland. More than 6000 people work directly at Ford and there are an additional 2000 employees at the company's sub-suppliers. The factory in Saarlouis is considered to be particularly flexible as up to five different models are produced per production line. Ford exports around 80% of the units produced to 80 countries.  With that, the company makes about a third of the total export volume of Saarland.
The individual sites are regularly examined very carefully at Ford in order to provide consistent efficiency. Therefore, new models are also regularly produced in Saarlouis – for example the soon the C-MAX, the C-MAX Compact and C-Max Grand versions

The service provider offers turnkey solutions

To adapt the production accordingly Ford uses the know-how of companies such as RESA System GmbH for example, specialists for automation engineering who develop and implement complete installations with control engineering, delivery systems and industrial robots according to customer requirements. The service provider, with approximately170 employees, is located in neighbouring Saarwelling/Germany and for 20 years has worked for Ford when changes in production are planned. Among others, an existing electrical suspension track system was affected by the upcoming type integration of the C-MAX versions C-MAX Compact and C-MAX Grand. In this area of the body-shell work many single parts that later form the body, are conveyed and transported to each production line via this system where the elements were clamped and welded, so that finally the complete body-shell, the so called body is measured and ready for further processing.

Powerful alternative sought after

„We searched this project for a solution that strengthens our competitiveness”, said key account and project manager Oliver Biwer about RESA Systems. Here not only the price performance ratio was important: “We also looked for a producer who is particularly reliable and offers fast support also on weekends and holidays. The hardware needed to include specific interfaces but needed to be compact. Besides, we needed components which we could change and adapt without interrupting the entire system. Finally we did not want to set up the complete installation anew, but only supplement a part”, Oliver Biwer said, talking about the demanding requirement profile.

The most difficult task was the implementation of an additional Ident system. So far, the production data has been written on data mediums of the suspension in the electrical suspension track so that the following processing stations could identify which type had to be welded next. As the existing Moby I system was discontinued a new possibility to mark the work pieces for the extension was looked for.

Nothing runs without interfaces

After detailed testing together with Ford, it was decided to deploy a RF ident system on UHF basis which makes the single parts identifiable for the production line through a RFID data medium. Therefore the plant components, which are equipped with this system, require a PROFINET connection. But the existing plant components that should initially remain unaffected as possible, work via PROFIBUS. So a CPU was required that includes both interfaces.

Oliver Biwer found this in the controllers of the 300 series of VIPA. “We had already applied the products in other projects and other areas and were always very satisfied”, he said. Recently we equipped a large facility at SAS Automotive Systems Supplier Park of Ford together. Therefore, it was clear that we should continue and extend this cooperation for the upcoming project at Ford.

Conversion fast and cost-conscious

„The STEP7 compatibility of the VIPA controllers particularly impressed us”, said Oliver Biwer about the main advantage, “so not only can our engineers cope with the controller immediately but also the maintenance technicians at the customers”. The compatibility has further advantages: ”Stockpiled I / O modules that are still in the customer's warehouse in the standby modus, can be used little by little. We only deploy the new powerful controllers – the rest of the hardware just keeps running. This brings operation reliability for the customer and the commissioning can be completed within a very short time at the weekend.”

Here another crucial advantage is that all interfaces required, such as PROFIBUS, MPI, Ethernet and PROFINET, are already included in the VIPA CPU 315PN, whereas with other producers you have to buy them in addition to the CPUs. Also the memory is considerably larger so that a larger CPU is not required. In this way Ford was able to reduce their hardware costs by up to 50% compared to other producers.

On-road test successfully passed

In a six-week trial period, the SPEED7 CPU was integrated into a line and checked intensively by a staff group from Cologne and the technicians of Saarlouis. “The conversion was completed very fast and since then everything runs trouble-free without any interruptions. “, said Oliver Biwer.
Four CPUs were bought as a pilot installation for the extension of the electrical suspension track and additional accessories as power supply and profile rails. The existing I/O cards and the cross-system communication via PROFIBUS FDL connection remained unchanged.
“Due to the performance of the CPUs in most of the cases the 300 series is sufficient, where before you had to use larger components”, said Oliver Biwer. “Because of the conversion to the compact VIPA high performance devices the space reduction of 20%, which is required by the customers, can easily be complied with.
This project is definitely an important mile stone for upcoming joint projects at Ford in Saarlouis/Germany.