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Audi in Mexico; Renishaw Equator; Honda welding process; Ford - Going for the One; Steel for Safer Volvo; Valeo's Hybrid4all

Audi: Mexico & More
 

In September, Audi announced that it will build its first production plant in North America, which is scheduled to start producing the successor to the current Audi Q5 sport ute by 2016. The plant will be located in San José Chiapa, in the State of Puebla, Central Mexico.

The plant will have a planned capacity of 150,000 vehicles per year.

“The new plant in San José Chiapa will be the most modern in the Audi production network for its efficient use of resources and production methods,” stated Frank Dreves, Audi board member for Production. He added, “The Audi Production System means we build cars of premium quality at every single one of our sites.” And there will be more sites, well beyond the boundaries of Ingolstadt.

This past May, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler, in a speech at the 123rd Annual General Meeting of Audi AG, explained the rationale by saying, “Audi is building a plant in Mexico! That is a fundamental strategic decision: First, for the North American market. We want to reduce our exposure to exchange-rate fluctuations. When manufacturing costs and sales revenues are both denominated in dollars, we minimize our risk. But it is also about growth opportunities in other regions. Mexico is part of several free trade agreements. This will allow us to ship our cars duty free to the U.S.A., Latin America and Europe. Consequently, with the successor to the Audi Q5, we will be manufacturing a model in Mexico for the entire global market. Mexico is already the world’s eighth-largest car manufacturing nation.”

(Mexico is not the only place where Audi is adding or expanding its capacity: it is expanding its plant in Györ, Hungary, and is building an assembly plant in Foshan, China, which will be complete in late 2013.)

But there was an interesting comment made by the chairman of the Audi General Works Council coincident with the announcement of the siting of the Mexican assembly plant. Said Peter Mosch: “The new location in Mexico will unlock further growth for us, and also protect capacity at the main plants. The latter will increasingly step into the role of lead plants for our technologies in developing modern production methods, using new materials and joining techniques, and with regard to electric mobility. For the employees”—Audi has 65,000 employees worldwide, of whom about 48,000 are based in Germany—“this solution offers not just secure jobs, but also additional career prospects. And we have concluded an employment guarantee agreement with the company until the end of 2018.”

Note the fact that Mosch mentioned the development of new processes and the use of new materials and joining techniques, as well as electric vehicles. Clearly there is an on-going emphasis at Audi to stay at the forefront of technological developments, which will be key to any vehicle manufacturer’s success—especially those in the premium end of the market, as Audi is—going forward.

The Audi Q5. The successor model will be produced in a new plant in Mexico, slated to launch in 2016.
 

Measuring System Performs as Temps Swing
 

While there are some fairly demanding factory-floor measuring requirements at auto companies and suppliers around the world, consider Kishan Auto parts Pvt. Ltd. (Rajkot, Gujarat India), a manufacturer of connecting rods for automotive and other applications. Kishan produces up to 50,000 con rods per month and as many as 360 variants.

The temperature on its shop floor can vary by 43°F, from 66 to 104°F.

Which means that accurately measuring parts can be tricky. Historically, the company has been using air gauges for checking diameter, circularity, and bend and twist. This meant that they had to have 3 or 4 different gauges for each of its 360 variants. When using the air gauges, each required a cycle of approximately 120 seconds, or about 8 minutes to measure the features on a part.

To increase throughput, they’ve opted to switch to an Equator measuring system from Renishaw (renishaw.com). This system is capable of handling 77 connecting rod variants and operators, and can gauge a part in 55 seconds; the system provides go/no go assessment as well as all of the measured component dimensions. Generally, they measure 500 con rods during a 10-hour shift.

To maintain accuracy during the thermal swings, there is a master part measured on a coordinate measuring machine (CMM) at least every three hours; this allows the Equator system to be calibrated to the conditions. Said Shantibhai Changela, managing director, Kishan Auto, “Essentially Equator and the CMM complement each other perfectly, one providing the traceable certified accuracy, the other providing the thermal capability and extra capacity.”
Measuring a con rod with a Renishaw Equator on the floor of Kishan Auto in India.

 

New Honda Welding Process: Light & Efficient

Although friction stir welding (FSW) isn’t a new process, Honda Motor Co. says that it has developed a technology that allows it to be applied for continuous welding of steel and aluminum and that its use in welding the subframe of the 2013 Honda Accord (see ) is a world’s first.

Whereas FSW is typically performed with a large machine (as there is significant pressure applied to the tool, which has the consequent effect of creating a bond between the materials that is equal to or better than the joint produced with metal inert gas [MIG]), Honda engineers have developed the tooling so that it is robotically applied to the subframe.

According to Honda out of its Tokyo office:
•    The weight of the combined aluminum/steel subframe is 25% less than an all-steel component
•    There is 50% less electricity used in the process compared to conventional welding
•    The structural design of the subframe that FSW facilitates results in a 20% increase in rigidity

To assure that the bond is 100%, Honda also developed an in-line inspection system that utilizes an infrared camera and laser.

In addition to aluminum-to-steel welding, the FSW system “with the same specifications” can be used should Honda decide to produce a full-aluminum subframe.
 

Honda is using friction stir welding (FSW) to build a steel-aluminum subframe for the 2013 Accord. It is said to be the first such application of the process in a continuous production application.

 

Ford: Going for the One

You’ve heard of “One Ford,” right?

You’ve undoubtedly seen the fruits of “One Ford,” like the global Ford Focus. This is about common platforms being used on a global basis.

What you probably haven’t heard of is “One Manufacturing.”

Yes, Ford is now taking its oneness and applying it in its plans.

As John Fleming, Ford executive vice president, Global Manufacturing, explained at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars last month, “The global One Ford plan is making it possible for us to deploy One Manufacturing, a single Ford production system that will pay tremendous dividends through standard processes, greater flexibility and improved investment efficiency.”

As Ford builds new facilities—it is undertaking its biggest global expansion in 50 years, particularly as it adds capacity for the Asia Pacific Africa market—it is focusing on installing common manufacturing processes and standard systems (e.g., material tracking, delivery, maintenance), which will have the consequence of not only aligning operations—“It is critical that all of our assembly operations, wherever they are located, speak the same language when it comes to producing high-quality vehicles in a safe and efficient way”—and reduce costs.

Among the elements of One Manufacturing are:
•    Flexibility. In 2011, 55% of Ford assembly operations had flexible body shops. In 2012, the number is 65%. The company projects that by 2015 it will be able to produce 25% more vehicle derivatives per plant compared with 2011.
•    Virtuality. It is using more digital tools to simulate car assembly operations so as to determine the best way to do tasks—efficiently and safely. Since 2006, Ford has reduced the number of initial manufacturing build issues by more than 90%. In addition to which, they’ve reduced the amount of investment it takes to assemble a vehicle by more than 20% since 2006, and the investment to produce a vehicle derivative (as in the metric in the previous point) by 60%.
•    Standardization. By developing standard processes (using virtual tools), they anticipate reducing total vehicle investment by 8% per year.
•    Utilization. By 2016, the company expects its global capacity utilization on a two-shift basis to increase 27% compared with 2011.
   
One Ford has made better cars. One Manufacturing will help Ford make those cars better.

Robotics in the body shop at the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant where the Ford Escape is being built.

 

Steel Contributes to Safer Volvo
 

Volvo Trucks—the Sweden-based company that should not be confused with Volvo Cars, which is owned by the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group of Hangzhou, China—has just launched a new model, the Volvo FH. According to Carl Johan Almqvist, Traffic and Product Safety Director at Volvo Trucks, “We’ve utilized new technology, new materials, and everything we’ve learned since our most recent new cab. We’ve used all this to build an even safer truck. The result is the world’s safest Volvo.”

Given that “Volvo” is pretty much synonymous with “safety,” to call it the “world’s safest” is to say a lot.

How is this safety being achieved? In large part through the utilization of high strength steel.

For example, dual-phase steel is being used for collision-absorbing beams and in the doors. Boron steel is being used in the cab structure. Said Robert Ritzén, who was in charge of materials for the FH cab, “By using these new grades of steel, we can build a stronger cab without increasing its weight. This way, we enhance safety without compromising on payload capacity.”

Other contributors to making this a safe truck are a variety of electronics systems, including lane-keeping support, lane-changing support, adaptive cruise control, and driver alert support.

The development of the cab of the Volvo Truck FH included thousands of simulated collisions and approximately 100 actual crash tests. The result is what the company says is its “safest” truck ever.

 

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Although this appears to be an everyday Peugeot 207 with a direct-injected, turobocharged 1.6-liter engine, it is anything but. What you can’t see (if you were able to read the verbiage on the stripe along the doors you would know something is different) that this is the Hybrid4all vehicle developed by Valeo (valeo.com). The concept is to essentially take a conventional gasoline-powered vehicle and through the deployment of some additional technology, provide a 15% improvement in fuel efficiency and to cut the per-gram cost of CO2 by 50%. And this tech is economical within the bounds of the price point of B- and C-segment vehicles according to the supplier. Among the elements is a 48-volt electrical system, a compact motor-generator that provides up to 12-kW of power and fits within the space of a conventional alternator, and a regenerative braking system. Not only does the architecture improve the environmental performance, but Valeo points out that by using the electric motor in concert with the internal combustion engine, there are also benefits like improved torque at drive-off, so even though there may be a loss of acceleration capability from the engine, the motor provides the additional kick.

 

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