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CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 81–91

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CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology
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Automotive assembly technologies review: challenges and outlook for a flexible and adaptive approach
G. Michalos, S. Makris, N. Papakostas, D. Mourtzis, G. Chryssolouris *
Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems and Automation, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics, University of Patras, Patras 265 00, Greece



Article history: Available online 6 January 2010 Keywords: Automotive assembly Flexibility Adaptability Assembly technologies

In this paper, emerging technologies in the automotive assembly are discussed, along with techniques used in the vehicle assembly plants. The discussion involves technologies directly dealing with assembly processes such as handling, joining, human resources etc. as well as with supporting systems, mainly the information technologies. An overview of the existing technologies is provided. The assembly systems are unable to cope with the requirements of mass customization and need to be enriched with new technologies for a higher flexibility potential. Concepts integrating various new technologies into supporting both automated and human based assembly operations are presented and discussed versus this identified inability for mass customization. Future assembly plants need to utilize flexibility systematically, both for the system design and its operation. For this purpose, a close loop approach is discussed. ß 2009 CIRP.

Contents 1. 2. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Assembly industrial practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1. Assembly equipment in automotive . . . . . 2.1.1. Material handling . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1.2. Positioning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1.3. Joining . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1.4. Information and control systems 2.2. Workforce in assembly systems. . . . . . . . . Academic perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1. Assembly system design and operation. . . Conclusions and outlook . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81 82 82 82 83 83 84 85 85 86 88 89 89 89

3. 4. 5.

1. Introduction Technological advancements, new competitors, global sourcing and industry restructuring result in great challenges for the automotive industry. The transition of the automotive industry from mass production to mass customization is based on the need for more customized vehicles to be produced, providing many

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +30 2610 997262; fax: +30 2610 997744. E-mail address: (G. Chryssolouris). 1755-5817/$ – see front matter ß 2009 CIRP. doi:10.1016/j.cirpj.2009.12.001

variants, with the use of fewer resources and materials, in the shortest time possible [1]. The capability of offering more variants per model, and introducing new models faster, is constrained by the current technologies and the equipment of mass production operations, which are incapable of supporting product variability [2,3]. Increased complexity in the automotive assembly, requires a holistic perspective of the main manufacturing attributes that need to be considered when manufacturing decisions, as regards cost, time, quality and flexibility, are taken [4]. The vehicle itself as a product, is also characterized by high complexity, and different approaches, such as modularity, have emerged so as to allow OEMs

In Section 2. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 81–91 to simplify the management of the product [3. Assembly equipment in automotive The equipment used in the automotive assembly systems has to meet the requirements related to the parts’ weight and dimensions but also to the high production rates and high precision. in terms of time. However. number of variants. Automated product transportation solutions. due to enhanced innovations and increasing market launches of new products and product variants. (3) semi-automated assembly and (4) fixed assembly. the concept of mechatronicoriented production planning is being investigated. 1. separate product configurations are responsible for the ‘‘drifting’’ in single stations. the joint evolution of product families and assembly systems over product generations is currently being promoted [13]. and in associated costs. One of the main challenges that modern assembly systems are faced with. four approaches could be distinguished in the design of an assembly system: (1) manual assembly. inspection etc. involve right speed. Current approaches in the robot design. Performance characteristics of assembly systems following different assembly principles (as reproduced in [105]). The challenge for the equipment suppliers is to achieve the minimization of changeover and passive time through fast and lean systems. batch sizes and flexibility.82 G. is given in Section 3. The major advantage lies in their ability to introduce new models on a line with minimum impact on running production. in a new location. secure launch. The necessary requirements for this. in Fig. are reported by Weyand and Bley [18]. is being sought. welders.1. Cooperating robots is another concept promoting the use of robots. within 2–3 days [21]. integrative consideration of not only mechanical but also electrical and information technical resource data [17]. need to be minimized along with any material damage resulting from improper handling. redundant robots are responsible for finalizing tasks that had not been satisfactorily completed in the precious stages or for taking over tasks from the mainline robots. body shop. Minimizing the changeover time among the models is the OEMs’ primary objective [20]. favors the reduction in the number of fixtures and in the process cycle time. ecology and society) is currently promoted through new paradigms in the so called holistic production systems [19]. 2. Flexibility in today’s robotic applications is achieved through the automatic changes of end effectors and robot programs. adequate stability. by means of establishing a single data communication network connection among robots. On the other hand. the typical structure of an assembly plant involves four stages: stamping. taking as an example the body shop in the automotive industry. while hybrid human/machine systems are found at the FA stage. Modularity (both in product design and in production lines) is also a factor that needs to be considered since it reflects the latest trend for simplifying and managing products under high customizability requirements [25]. At present. In assembly line balancing. Internal logistics and space constraints are identified among the most important constraints of flexibility. High levels of automation are typically introduced during the assembly of the body in white (BIW). it deals with accessibility constraints introduced by the use of fixtures [24]. The integration of sustainability dimensions (such as economy. the robot cell can be moved from one plant to another and be put into production. Two recent examples of a robot’s contribution to the increase inflexibility are the utilization of a new robot cell. Two of the robots (in the middle and on the right of the figure) are picking up and holding the parts to be welded while the third one (on the left) performs the spot welding. due to product variety and complexity. while at the same time. Next. 2. good landing and correct assimilation and estimation of boundary conditions [16]. such as skid conveyors and automated electrified Fig. In general. 1. typically different vehicles are assembled with the use of the same assembly line (mixed model assembly line/MMAL). due to the manual activities and the focus on single parts as well as the missing transparency in the digital environment. Material handling The costs associated with delivering raw materials. and the utilization of redundant robots from PSA. (2) flexible assembly. called ‘‘mobicell’’ from BMW. paint and final assembly (FA). this approach results in long passive times and in a great degree of complexity. In order for the assembly system to handle this complexity efficiently.) of improved quality and repeatability. in terms of production volumes. the implementation of adaptable characteristics to the assembly system ramp-up so that it is possible to achieve market orientation by means of suitable ramp-up strategies. Michalos et al. These assembly principles and the respective assembly system performances. from the design to the operation of the assembly system. the findings are summarized and the future trends are highlighted. MMALs are characterized by their ability to assemble different models of a given product. In the PSA’s concept. without holding large inventories [14]. a discussion on the promising technologies is presented in Section 4 and in the last section. Non-robotic handling issues are also discussed as a solution to incorporating standardized pieces of equipment for both tooling and part handling. An example of cooperative assembly motion is shown in the 3D simulation model. In the automotive assembly. the risk and chances in the final assembly planning. The foundation of this mechatronic-oriented planning process chain is the early. as highlighted by Ba product. This goal is however underpinned by the constantly rising number of ramp-ups. This approach. and safety networks [23]. moving work in process and removing finished goods. . is the cost-driven demand for faster and more secure ramp-up processes. The current trend followed by the ¨ r [15]. over a range of applications. are presented in Fig. is the adoption of automotive OEMs. equipment and process standardization. The majority of assembly operations take place in the body shop and FA. Assembly industrial practice In the automotive industry. is discussed along with a presentation of the technologies of the greatest potential. 2. call for reduction in robots. the current status in the automotive industry. As a step towards this direction. in robot peripheral wiring.1. quality and flexibility. Based on the ‘‘mobicell’’ concept. which are experiencing problems [22]. which are communicating with each other in order to carry out a common task.5–12]. The academic perspective on upcoming technologies. Product and process allocation is time-consuming and error-prone. due to their ability to accomplish tasks (assembly. cost. the automotive industry and its supply chains are main users of robotic systems.1. 2. In this context.

A further development of laser welding leads to the introduction of remote laser welding (RLW). caused by the interaction of two magnetic poles. Michalos et al. broader spectrum of weldable materials. such as to provide only local views. making it hard to introduce them to assembly lines. the intelligent assist devices (IADs) are introduced by Colgate et al. Some of these tasks require the precision and speed of automation.G. Material handling equipment also involves AGVs (automatic guided vehicle). tungsten inert gas (TIG) and manual metal arc (MMA) have the immediate advantage of being known and proven technologies. the IADs exploit the natural human ability to coordinate and control motion by preventing any product damage and the operators from having any cumulative trauma injuries. In contrast to the awkward and slow conventional assist equipment. ability to damp noise and vibrations. improved joint stiffness of the bond. reduced material handling costs.1. Positioning Fixtures. Towards this direction. servo-driven tools. The use of tactile sensors can be beneficial as these sensors are not affected by the object’s reflections and the existence of shadows. Such components require both precise handling and secondary assembly operations. 2. good fatigue resistance thanks to reduced stress concentrations. under process. to future assembly facilities. For laser welding CO2. continuous monitoring and direction as well as coordination of the vehicle operations [31]. which enable production workers to lift. ability to process any material and use in cutting applications with minimal changes [39]. while others benefit from the dexterity and intelligence of human operators [28]. whenever a sealed connection is required.3. minimizing the risk of swarf entrapment. other joining techniques are currently being tested and are expected to be applied.1. and thus. engine blocks. Fixtures align a component to a desired position and ensure that this position remain unaltered during the operation. cockpit modules. During this impact.2. Cooperating robots performing spot welding on automotive parts. used for the horizontal movement of materials. High quality glues provide improved joining between different kinds of materials. sensing with range finders and vision sensing are some useful sensing techniques (Mark [34]). sufficient pressure is generated to create a weld [38]. Especially in cases involving heavy and bulk components. in the correct position. and with ergonomic safety. The benefits deriving from the use of adhesive bonding involve: minimal distortion of the components. the feeding. [29] as computer controlled. strut assemblies or air tanks (in the case of truck assembly). On the other hand. Tactile sensing.) allowing the operator to focus on value-adding tasks. accommodating both human operators and automation. Adhesive bonding is mostly used in combination with resistance spot welding. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 81–91 83 Fig. The riveting technology is also enhanced by the introduction of self-drilling and self-piercing rivets. storage and supervision of other equipment. deep penetration welding. at lower costs.27]. Moreover. it is very difficult to introduce the possibility of branching or diverting the path of the tracks. however. which uses large focal length optics. Robotic vision systems with cameras or laser diodes are of a high cost and in general. clamping devices and brackets are traditional solutions for placing the parts. allows the minimization of time between welds and it consequently. have a high cycle time thus. tactile sensing has other limitations. Since the lead time for the design and manufacture of new fixtures represents a great portion of the total cycle time and cost. and to distort a sensory object. high-power laser sources and mirrors to translate the laser beam into a large 3D working volume at high speeds [40. in a large scale. The EJOTs have the advantage of producing little or no swarf. the measurement with tactile sensors is direct and independent of their position. Material handling in environments. there is being a continuous effort for the design of flexible fixtures or for their complete abandonment [32]. such as inserting fasteners and connecting wire harnesses. possibility to join dissimilar materials and no direct contact between parts [37. The most important benefits provided by the AGVs involve: effective inventory tracking and control. results in shorter cycle times. Advantages of laser welding when compared with conventional welding techniques include: little distortion of components. Sensorial capabilities are also required in an assembly cell for the observation of the environment—the incoming parts and subcomponents. Magnetic pulse welding is a joining method exploiting the repulsion force. while the IAD takes over routine movements [28]. or they can use free ranging techniques for exploiting the use of sensors as described by Iris [30].41]. The EJOT self-drilling rivets [43] combine the benefits of single-sided access with an ability to produce their own hole by incorporating a drilling or forming head into the rivet’s design. accurately. Robot vision is a technology continuously gaining ground in automotive applications. which propel the parts against each other. These techniques are widely adopted as they only require one side access to the joint and can provide high joint strength and quality. such as dashboards. Remote welding requires only one side access to the part. As discussed by Barnes and Pashby [37] arc-welding techniques. The vision systems are mostly used in order to implement robot adaptive control. The AGVs can travel along fixed guide paths.42]. Nevertheless. as well as the control and supervision of the assembly process [33]. 2. move and position payloads quickly. tend to replace spot welding completely. The multi-axis IADs can also be programmed to perform semi-autonomous functions (such as returning to home or loading position etc. A major advantage is its ability to join different types of metals without causing heat distortions. monorails are being used due to their accessibility advantages. excimer and the Nd: YAG lasers are used. driver-less transport systems. 2. new solutions are now replacing the traditional hoists [26. such as metal inert gas (MIG). where parts or subassemblies are measured and the results are fed back to the robots in order to compensate for any part mis-positioning variation and build tolerance variation [35]. thus. increased material throughput capacity. Joining Most processes in an assembly line involve the joining of two or more components in order to produce sub-assemblies [36]. . is addressed by solutions promoting the human–machine interaction and the intelligent human–robot cooperation.

Table 1 provides a brief comparison of the aforementioned joining technologies. Makris et al. Finally. S: spot burns.106–115]. which allow manufacturers to efficiently author. exchanging information is further promoted by wireless communication technologies. Med. Resistance spot welding on the other hand. 1: very good.49]. Internet based communication and real time information from RFID sensors are among the main enablers of the methodology. and automated quality inspection over the whole production volume. These involve: the development of highly reconfigurable. current research proves that it is possible to extend electrode life to over 10. Spot welding Arc welding Laser beam welding Magnetic pulse Welding Remote laser welding Adhesive bonding Self-drilling rivets Self-piercing rivets (SPRs) Friction stir welding Clinching Brazing B B A A A A B B A A B 2 1 1 2 1 1 1 2 1 2 1 Most metals Most metals Most materials Metals Most materials Most materials Metals and plastics Metals and plastics Most materials Most metals Most metals Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No No No No Yes Table 1 Comparison of assembly technologies [39. The self-piercing technology offers a viable alternative to spot welding in automotive assembly due to the fact that in combination with adhesives. High S D D N D N P P D F D . dynamic generation of welding parameters and process monitoring tools that can ensure dynamic compensation of process drifts. simulate and manage manufacturing information throughout their organization and with each other [51]. producing enough friction to plasticize the material around the tool and move it towards the rear of it [48. the IT systems support different tasks.6 m/min 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 2 3 3 3 2 2 2 1 1 3 3 3 2 1 2 3 2 2 1 2 3 No Yes Yes No No Yes No No No No Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Med. the installation of IT systems is considered mandatory in order for the desired changeability to be achieved. in autonomous systems. required for the production of highly customizable products.84 G. the cost of equipment is relatively high. Michalos et al. Med. Med. Med.11. new welding techniques.000 spot welds by periodically polishing it [47]. Information and control systems At operating level. Inside an assembly plant. The challenges of mass customization. vehicle identification. [53]. required for the welding operations. A: auto. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 81–91 Welding surface Flexibility Consumables Extra-equipment Environmentally friendly process Cost Sealing properties Welding time\production rates Cutting applications Heat distortions leading to damage elsewhere [37]. 3: poor. the process needs to have access to both sides of the joint (use of c-frames). Among the advantages of the SPRs is their ability to join dissimilar and galvanized or pre-painted materials without damaging the coating. quality management. [52] propose a methodology for dynamically inquiring supply chain partners to provide real time or near real time information regarding the availability of parts. it can provide leak proof joints. such as mill-knurling are currently being investigated as alternatives to laser welding with significant costs. F: flat projections. The friction stir welding uses rotating tools at high speeds. build anywhere’’ requires technologies and methodologies. N: no change. of high fatigue strength and a high degree of reliability [45].4.49. and others. High High Med. the possibility to visually check the joints. selfadaptive processes with on-line quality control. Manual/ automated Access (1 or 2 side) Weldable materials 1–2 s/weld Up to 4 m/min Up to 10 m/min 2–10 s/weld 1–10 m/min Variable 1–2 s/rivet Up to 10 s/rivet Up to 1 m/min Up to 10 s/weld Up to 1. such as material and workflow planning. Advanced vision systems for ensuring process accuracy can eventually lead to higher process efficiency (reduced cycle time. maintenance management. utilizing the built in information and communication technology (ICT) capabilities of assembly equipment was examined by Dransfeld et al. Nevertheless. by reducing the flange size. The strategy to ‘‘plan anywhere.90. process optimization modeling.g. order control and monitoring. Nevertheless. this process requires very rigid fixtures so as to accurately position the parts and therefore. High Med. However. weight and size savings [50]. reduced defects) as well as to better material usage and reduction in product weight. 2: good. Self-piercing rivets (SPRs) are capable of both piercing and forming a permanent fastening. shop floor documentation. to be an environmentally friendly process and to allow possibly manual application [37]. flexibility and quality are reflected in the current research trends on joining technologies. D: deformations. The traceability of products and components within running assembly lines. further development has to be made in order for any arising problems. e. No Yes Yes No Yes No No No No No No B: both. The EJOTs are particularly valuable in the event of any repairs required [44]. Specifically. P: projections. The setting forces required for the process are quite large and for this reason. to weld aluminum or high strength steel with consistent quality. such as RFID. GSM and 802.1. 2. is being also applied to aluminum vehicles [46] but the application is constrained by the short life of the electrode and the associated inconsistency in the weld quality.

installation.2. the development of automation solutions is heavily affected by the rapid developments in the electronic and information technology for the automation of manufacturing processes. volume. [77] using statistical analysis of the Discounted Cash Flow estimates of the manufacturing system’s lifecycle cost. and control systems prior to the purchase. a part or component can be assembled and disassembled. Workforce in assembly systems Human operators in general. based on the deep scientific process knowledge [69]. in order to speed-up the development process and to eliminate the need for early physical prototypes [56]. The vision for the future. may help the decision making on evaluating and improving several aspects of the assembly process such as: location and size of inventory buffers. However. Fig. such as Daimler have adopted the principles of a digital factory as it can guarantee stability. is affected by the workers’ ability to remember and perform different assembly operations. The physical strength of the workforce is another factor responsible for any production disturbances and results in increased costs for replacements and losses. The agent technology is promising for industrial application. The benefit will be the facilitation of information exchange among the departments and a ‘right first time’ approach to product design in a real time process [71]. The digital simulation and the planning of assembly processes are based on various enabling technologies such as: immersive virtual reality [61. production equipment. The introduction of powerful 3D virtual simulation tools allows engineers to design. process. causing absenteeism and replacements. while clearing all process phenomena and correlations of influencing factors and output characteristics. The combination of automated and manual work cycles composes the hybrid assembly systems. such as swarm intelligence. Apart from monitoring and control applications. Emergent computing techniques. provides an example of how human assembly operations are modeled realistically within the latest simulation packages. In this figure. the shop floor IT systems can also be used for providing performance analysis and improvement of plants. do not affect the process in a pre-determined way [65. which cannot be described analytically. However. economic efficiency and high maturity of product and process at an early stage of development [60].64]. Introduction to job rotation is seen as an answer to the problem concerning monotonous repetitive work. to be supported by the information technologies involves a common integrated architecture for information sharing that will improve response time [54]. A typical example is the introduction of agent-based technologies.62]. since they are capable of quickly adapting to changing products and market situations [72]. evaluation of a change in product volume or mix. in the early stages.66]. 2. robotic work cells. there is a lack for information systems that could support the quantitative evaluation of alternative rotation schedules. such as synchronization. Big automotive companies. at plant level. Virtual assembly environments for the assessment of process and human factors in assembly. Michalos et al. the system’s performance. Integration of product lifecycle management (PLM) systems with CAD. operation. Moreover. 3. The multi-skilled workers’ ability to work in a number of different workstations and to perform several assembly tasks is also a way of their handling the increasing demand for larger product variability. This growing demand for system integration and the increasing complexity of automation solutions are the main drivers for the development of innovative information and communication technologies [55]. Attempts to measure flexibility have been made by Alexopoulos et al. the human manikin performs the assembly of a truck’s cabin interiors. expansion and labor flexibility. Academic perspective Flexibility as a metric of the system’s behavior can be expressed in many forms. In its turn. the practical application of software agents is constrained by issues.G. collaborative virtual design [33] and digital human simulation for the manual assembly system and ergonomic assessments [61. which has been identified as a major cause of work load related disorders (repetitive strain injuries) in the work force. simulation of assembly processes requires advanced interaction and increased realism in order to be considered useful and practicable for industrial use [67]. on the basis of an integrated data model and geometrybased planning [59]. for service and maintenance purposes by a human performer. depending on the system’s desired characteristics. throughput analysis etc. Human simulation in automotive assembly processes. synchronize. of which the final one is the assertion that later on. as a whole. and data consistency among the agents. The trend for automotive OEMs is the pursuit of dynamic line balancing and dynamic evaluation of alternative configurations of a plant’s operation so that the optimal can be selected. Job rotation is a technique based on the concept that assembly operators are trained to perform more than one task in different workplaces [75]. and validate production lines. over the last years. The assembly verification has several goals. as it is based upon distributed architecture [54]. Nevertheless. Fig. design for assembly (DFA) and computer aided manufacturability analysis [70] methodologies is under investigation in order to couple the product architecture with the assembly process specifications. CAD tools have been extensively used in product development departments. flexibility can be classified as external or internal [76]. aim at supporting process experimentation and verification concerning factors. 3. interfacing.63. and therefore. Job rotation is a viable solution to the above. [68]. Discrete event simulation (DES). and commissioning of a single piece of physical equipment. Several types of flexibility have been proposed so far including: product. The digital factory comprises digital planning [58] and optimization of the real-life plant as well as of its production processes. large-scale engineering design optimization (EDO) requires more computational power and efficient optimization algorithms. which have a considerable rationalization potential for meeting customer oriented production requirements [72–74]. Today manufacturing research and development is experimentally oriented. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 81–91 85 such as interference and security to be dealt with. 3. however. grid and quantum computing are expected to enhance the optimization speed and efficiency [57]. . are considered as major flexibility enablers. includes the use of process models and simulation tools to optimize assembly in the early phases. However. The goal.

Other functions of the system. The main problem that needs to be addressed in the cases of manual assembly. strength. involving completely different models (e. Shribman [90] also discussed the modular and reconfigurable fixtures. The emerging benefits are obvious. was proven to overcome the deficiencies of the net present value (NPV) by having included both the uncertainty inherent in the project and the active decision making. for implementation of robot based flexible fixtureless assembly are being designed and developed over the last years [86– 89]. even if they are not familiar with it. . relates to the uneven distribution of workloads leading to line balancing problems. When the operator enters the workplace the RFID interrogators identify the mobile device as well as the vehicle that is currently inside the station. Michalos et al. induced when changes in physical flows occur with the current systems. such as dynamic job rotation. the different factory departments are required to be flexible enough to handle this product variety. inherent in computational stages. Coordinate controlled fixturing relies on a metrology system of controlling the positioning of either a fixture or the workpiece itself during the fixture’s build-up. which can be adapted to both large and small changes of the workpiece. have emerged. navigation system. The integration of automated parts and the operator detection (using RFID etc. several approaches are being tested. may be quite high and therefore. in terms of mass customization. are expected to boost flexibility and efficiency. In the investigation of the effect of flexibility on market adaptation it is concluded that establishing and maintaining the flexibility of a production system at a satisfactory level.86 G. such as providing feedback to the design engineers. such as assembly instructions. The flexibility of investment decisions. In order for process quality to be ensured. [13].z. 5. are also presented in the figure. Discussion The traditional assembly systems have marginally succeeded in meeting the requirements of the automotive market. experience. it has to be noted that the greatest number of variants and thus. perhaps the most novel flexible fixturing technology is that of the phase-change fixtures. Different production system types. 5 door. coupe. An alternative approach is based on the analogy of the dynamic behavior. 3 door. providing this flexibility. between a simple mechanical system and a manufacturing one. at the right place and at the right time. Examples of the different variants and the respective departments handling each one of them are shown in Fig. The challenge will be to come up with solutions. and buffers that can be used for assembling a variety of similar product types [81]. subject to the information available that allows evaluating flexibility. expressed as the option value. Audi TT and Volkswagen Golf) and different model versions (i. quality and cost. An assembly system is called ‘‘autonomous’’ if it is able to cope with all uncertainties. is presented. The dynamic job rotation concept is used to generating the working schedule for each operator over a working period. where human workforce is mainly utilized. the integration of the aforementioned concepts under a common framework. robot based measuring system. which is based on a standard industrial robot. which are formed by separate elements or modules. along with ones providing the right type of information [94]. considering the fact that even in the simple situation of replacing fixed workers with moving operators the system’s increase in the output is expected to be about 6% [95]. Each version can be further customized with the addition or removal of optional components (e. mounted on a locally flexible platform and is able to support the quality control cycle in the production of bodyshells [91]. Once the operator has finished performing the task. the so called flexapods. Although the introduction of vehicle platforms provides the ability to assemble more models in the same assembly line. It is obvious that accuracy is seriously affected by fixturing technologies. the higher the flexibility. based on the two-phase nature of materials that undergo a phase change between the liquid and solid states. As far as the human factor is concerned. Reconfigurable grippers. but it is a strategy through which processes and product design. flexibility is determined by the manufacturing system’s sensitivity to change: the lower the sensitivity. automated guided vehicles. This system is characterized by its ability to add/remove assembly devices by the ‘‘Plug and Produce’’ architecture [82] while at the control level. 4. leads to the achievement of sufficient market adaptation. information systems for on-line instructions) are under investigation [93]. Volkswagen uses a locally flexible. there is still a lot of room for improvement with reference to mass customization. in the real-world execution (control and sensing) of an assembly task. based on a decision tree analysis [79]. different concepts of hybrid workplaces are presented and evaluated against the criteria of investment costs and configuration effort Consiglio et al. which defines a set of intelligent devices/modules that map their functionality to basic assembly activities. and with the (re)planning itself [83]. sedan). 4. However. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 81–91 for a large variety of market to determine the system’s flexibility. work together in order to minimize the need for non-value-adding dedicated devices. time and quality. As a result. An actor-based assembly system (ABAS) is a collaborative electronics assembly automation architecture. will allow the operators to rotate continuously and perform any assembly task. In Fig. The reconfigurable assembly system (RAS) for instance. Fatigue. Fixtureless assembly [85] does not necessarily mean elimination of fixtures in general. Material handling research is conducted towards more flexible solutions in order for traditional part dedicated solutions to be abandoned. computer-controlled system of assembly robots. which was planned off-line. accounting for both task and operator characteristics. videos and CAD data. information systems supporting mental tasks (e. have been thoroughly examined by Barari [92]. knowledge and probability errors need to be combined into tools that can handle multiple criteria decision making problems. A platform provides a common base for the assembling of a great number of vehicle variations.g.g. named ‘‘assembly operations’’ [84]. especially when dealing with fluctuating demands [80]. Chryssolouris and Lee [78] have concluded that. denotes the task that belongs to order x and is carried out in the z workplace of workstation y. namely the final assembly stage.) in conjunction with the use of portable/wearable devices able to provide the operators with the right amount and type of information. The ART (affordable reconfigurable tooling) concept technology enables solutions for coordinate controlled fixturing by means of flexible supports. Current research activities are focused on the investigation of the relations among flexibility and other manufacturing attributes such as cost. The main advantage of these technologies involves on-line easy and accurate fixture configuration at a low cost. is an integrated. within the Gantt chart. In addition. Finally. This type of systems. capable of allocating the operators in an efficient way. the cost. Following. To further increase the ability of operators to handle a larger number of product variants. The uncertainty sources of coordinate metrology. the assembly instructions related to the specific vehicle are automatically downloaded to the operators’ handheld device. This schedule is transmitted into the operator’s mobile device and notifies him of the workplace he should move to. the extent of personalization. is carried out in the fourth level. The notation OxTask y. he moves to the next workplace according to his schedule and the process is repeated. it shows its abilities for intelligence and autonomy. heated seats and so on).g.e. including measurement planning and minimum deviation zone evaluation processes.

in terms of robustness and maintainability. Michalos et al. Furthermore. due to the increased cost requirements for vision systems. Emerging R&D topics that will attract the interest of the automotive industry involve: cold arc welding. it requires highly reconfigurable fixtures in order to achieve full flexibility and this can be translated into significant increases in the overall cost. which is being addressed by the development of tools for the dynamic generation of welding parameters. The need for part pre-treatment. make the alternative of having systems able to be selfprogrammed. between vision systems and robots during tool positioning (identification time). limitations on the cooperation. is not considered as a viable solution nowadays. On the other hand. 5. which would allow for lighter vehicles. Moreover. invisible welds. In adhesive bonding. For spot welding applications. new technologies aiming at replacing the widely used arc and spot laser welding are not yet proven. in conjunction with the fact that the fixtures constitute a significant portion of the production cost pie. Automotive variants derived from the same vehicle platform. Integrated system to support human based assembly operations. sensing techniques and controller capabilities. more flexible automation is required [96]. This.G. process automation requires the use of systems to ensure consistent application and therefore. by the introduction of new production methods and this makes them even more appealing to the automotive industry [98]. renders the need for fixture optimization imperative. As far as the joining processes are concerned. 4. and with as little data as possible. although the cost for the process is considered low. In magnetic pulse welding [97]. although the remote laser welding is very promising. make the cost for large scale application prohibitive. in terms of environmental-friendliness. at least one of the parts to be welded (specifically the moving part) has to be made of materials that are good conductors of electricity thus. for the time being. the fixtures should be designed in such a way so as to assure repeatability and stability. These materials however. there is a need for drastic reduction in the time and cost for the setup of welding parameters. constraining the use of composites materials. seem to be continuously benefited. Dedicated fixturing has been effectively used for high production volumes but it seems unable to cope with the large product variety. rubber based. Fixtureless assembly on the other hand. specialized fixturing to support joints during adhesive curing. more preferable. environmentally friendly structural adhesives and . Fig. extraequipment has to be installed. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 81–91 87 Fig. application of new safety measures and environmental limitations.

Product mix and volumes. Furthermore. at the shortest possible time. the status of current assembly systems is presented along with the technologies that can provide the required flexibility and productivity to reach the ideal position on the flexibility/productivity chart. 6 nomograms can be derived for each system showing how the operational cost and production volume are affected by different operating parameters of the system. virtual assembly methods in production planning. The modular product and assembly system design are key issues for modular concept implementation. areas of the nomogram where acceptable configurations lay can be identified and used for the selection of a satisfactory configuration. In Fig. in the final assembly stage. quite often. poses a certain cognitive workload on the operators. related to different alternative solutions to the design and operation problems that manufacturers are confronted with. 4. which needs to be strongly supported by software systems. it is the operational steady state conditions that are mostly considered. Assembly system design and operation For the design of assembly systems. In order for the human worker’s efficiency to be maximized. the introduction of more than four or five models in a line.and final assembly activities. The advantage of this model lies in its generality and simplicity. The arrows next to each technology indicate how each solution can transpose the existing system on the graph by affecting its productivity and flexibility. e. Instead. Tools to monitor and adapt the operation of a plant in order to meet the diversified demand. In industrial practice. even if assembly instructions are available. Modularity is an appealing approach. Both approaches though. based on the principle ‘‘design-evaluate-redesign’’ seems more preferable for this purpose. Fredriksson [100. such as the use of plans. each of the design criteria presumes the existence of quantification tools. In addition. First. resulting in a certain behavior of the system that can be quantified by using performance and flexibility evaluation techniques. the system design especially in terms of flexibility is carried out iteratively. Tools are required for the break-even analysis and the establishment of the ‘‘golden ratio’’ among the critical parameters. solutions must be developed in the directions of a user friendly human machine. is presented by Michalos et al. Other design concepts. which allows for a quick estimation of cost implications. standardization and mutual adjustment between pre. effective job rotation and possibly flexible working times. 7. Human resources are considered amongst the most flexible inside an assembly plant and especially. able to introduce the criteria dimension in the decision making process. In this context. wireless communications.g. are the main design parameters. it is difficult to decide which configuration is the optimum. as shown in Fig. In Fig. 6. seem ineffective in terms of time and flexibility. However. product mix/throughput and to introduce new products with minimum changes. such as the use of the delayed product differentiation (DPD) design to enable greater product mix Fig. However.101] supports that the efficiency of a modular assembly system depends on the use of several coordination mechanisms. and based on the company’s objectives. Flexibility is in general a desired attribute. identification of the parts to be assembled from the inventory presents another difficulty.1. the market demand is shown as an input to the manufacturing system control strategy. It should be able to encapsulate all enabling technologies in order for the desired degree of flexibility and productivity to be achieved. The system’s divergence from the desired behavior (in terms of capacity. in a close loop mode. may increase the complexity and the cost to prohibitively high levels. material and information flow (RFID systems. a human centered manufacturing and assembly design.88 G. aluminum to carbon steels [99]. there should be a better approach for the designing of systems so that they meet the desired performance and flexibility criteria from the very beginning [102]. The ideal solution for achieving mass customization would be to develop highly flexible multi-model assembly lines (MMAL) with the flexibility of a workshop and the productivity of single model assembly lines (SMAL) as shown in the dashed circle. the number of variants handled. nevertheless. number of variants and cost. a generalized cost model for assembly processes that can be used as a tool to support decision making during both the design and operation of assembly systems. [103]. The ability of the system to change its characteristics such as capacity. joining methods for mixed materials joining. . Michalos et al. A close loop approach considering multiple criteria for the design problem. the IT infrastructure and communication technologies are also needed. Trends and enabling technologies for future assembly systems. Selection of equipment and control strategies are among the most important decision making problems. flexibility and so on) is used to generating alternative adaptation actions. However. The worker either needs to memorize a large number of assembly operations or spend time reading instructions and consulting with production engineers. 7. the system is designed and implemented and then its characteristics are evaluated and modification takes place. on-line instructions). are necessary. is what will allow the OEMs to remain competitive in future. For instance. For instance. Nomogram for the selection of line operating parameters. capable of compensating for this divergence. 8. The combination of these parameters yields different design alternatives. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 81–91 Fig.

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