Chrysler Group Unveils Future Manufacturing Strategy
Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler Group Executive Vice President – Manufacturing, Speech to 2005 Management Briefing Seminars
Flexible robotics will drive cost reduction, productivity improvement and market responsiveness
Traverse City, Mich., Aug 2, 2005 –
A Chrysler Group executive today showed an industry audience at the 40th annual Management Briefing Seminars how his company is defining the leading edge of manufacturing flexibility. Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler Group’s Executive Vice President – Manufacturing, focused on robotics as the key link in a chain of manufacturing flexibility that includes stamping, lean die standards, flexible body shops, paint shops, work stations and work agreements.
“We see our ‘flexible robotics’ initiative as a prime driver of cost reduction, productivity improvement and market responsiveness,” said Ewasyshyn.
At the heart of the strategy is a unique use of robotics technology that will allow the Chrysler Group to build multiple vehicles on one production line, giving the Company the ability to quickly adapt vehicle production to meet consumer demand.
Ewasyshyn called flexible robotics a strategy born out of a shared vision with suppliers ABB Inc., Comau Pico and KUKA Robotics Corp., but also one that was “home grown” with all of the prototype work being done inside Chrysler Group.
“What we’ve come up with is, we believe, absolutely state-of-the-art,” said Ewasyshyn. “Robots have been with us for the better part of three decades, and I’ll be the first to admit that in flexibility, the Chrysler Group was a bit late to the game. The good news for us, however, is that by arriving late, we have been able to take advantage of more capable technology. We weren’t locked into previous generations of robots that were less capable.”
Ewasyshyn noted that over the last 10 years, incremental improvements in robot “hardware” have evolved in such a way that they are allowing Chrysler Group to leverage the technology as never before. He cited three developments in particular as key to enabling flexible robotics:
First, robots have gained significantly higher load ranges. Whereas in the 1990s, the “heavyweight lifters” of the robot world maxed out at 275 lbs., they’re now up to 1,500 lbs. or more – a 460 percent improvement.
“That allows us to move bigger pieces in ways that we’ve never been able to move them before,” explained Ewasyshyn. “Plus, we can move those pieces with no sacrifice of speed.”
Second, as computers have increased in capability, the power of industrial controllers has also significantly increased. The current generation of robot-drive technology – including servo motors, servo controls and drive controls – provides for more power in a smaller package.
Third, following the path of most technology today, as robots have moved up in size and capability, they’ve significantly gone down in cost. Like everything else with silicon chips, robots today are better, more capable and less costly than previous generations.
“That, in and of itself, is no revelation,” said Ewasyshyn. “Until you add one final piece – and that’s flexibility. It really pulls it all together.
“At the risk of oversimplification, imagine for a moment that you’re home in your garage or workshop building a bird house with your kids or grandchildren,” explained Ewasyshyn. “You pick up a handsaw to cut some plywood. You put down the saw and pick up a glue gun to adhere some pieces together. You put down the glue gun and pick up a hammer to drive some nails. You move a little closer or back a bit away from the bench to get better leverage with whatever tool you’re using. By simply changing the tools in your hands, you can change the pieces that you’re assembling.
“Maybe you switch from building a birdhouse to a doghouse or a mailbox. You’re also pretty mobile, so you can build small or large.
“This is a pretty simple concept for us humans, but it can be magic when applied to robotics in a manufacturing environment; give robots the flexibility to change tools and to assemble multiple pieces for different products. It means robots are now nearly as flexible as the human body.
“We’re working to eliminate as much of the complicated, single-purpose tooling as possible. We’re gaining the flexibility to make whatever we want with the robots in our plants. We’re creating ‘cell type’ environments in which the robot carries an ‘end affector’ (aptly named as it literally affects the end product). By changing that tool at the end of the robot, we change the product that we’re building.”
According to Ewasyshyn, as long as the number of process steps are roughly the same, Chrysler Group’s robots will have the ability to handle – apply adhesive, weld – whatever is needed.
“We first demonstrated this a few years ago in a test facility when we built a front rail assembly for a Chrysler Pacifica and then, in sequence, ran a body side for a Jeep,” said Ewasyshyn. “By merely changing the end affector on our robots, we were able to build two completely different parts that would normally never be processed together.”
This robotic revolution is taking manufacturing flexibility to a new level, according to Ewasyshyn.
“You’ve got material-handling and ‘joining’ robots working in cooperation in a cell. And by merely changing the software program in the robots, we change what we build. As long as the robot has the tool available on the end to join the parts or whatever it is that we want it to do: be it to seal, weld, laser weld, spot weld, arc weld, mig weld – it really doesn’t matter.
“There are also transfer devices within the system on which the robot can rest an end affector (or tool), disengage the system, and pick up the next tool. You can stack the tools based on how many different pieces you want to run.
“Once you divorce yourself from hard tools, the flexibility is theoretically limitless. With an interchangeable ‘hand’ at the end of a robot, as long as the robot can hold the pieces together, it can build it.”