We talk to the president of the Autorobot-Strefa company, Elwira Dziewa and the company’s chief technologist, Bogdan Besala, about the situation in the automotive industry, the implementation of projects under time pressure, as well as the production of lines on which 100 different body versions are created.
Is the automotive industry the main area of activity of Autorobot-Strefa?
E.D. : We specialize in the implementation of complete lines for welding car bodies on a turnkey basis: from the design stage, through execution, to commissioning at the customer’s factory. We participate in the entire project cycle, exchanging knowledge and experience with the client.
Our largest customer is the Fiat group. It is a partner with whom we maintain long-term cooperation. We are involved in joint projects at a very early stage of their development. We take part in the feasibility study and advise on the placement of welding points or their division between subsequent operations. Thanks to this, we can prepare an offer that is more tailored to their needs.
Another client – French Actemium – systematically commissions us to work on projects for French brands Renault, Peugeot and for the aviation tycoon, Airbus. It was with them that we cooperated during the large-scale implementation of the equipment for the assembly hall of the cabin sheathing for the Airbus A350. In addition, we conduct direct work on a smaller scale for clients such as GM, VW and Audi.
B.B. : It is always cooperation, the aim of which is to search for the optimal solution for both the client and us. Therefore, we jointly use all the opportunities and ideas that come up, so that our product can keep up with the continuous development, which is the norm in the automotive industry.
We develop together with our clients and where they invest, we are with our implementations. At present, Fiat has a tendency to increase in the more expensive car segment. This is where sales are growing and new investments are needed. So we actively participate in them. We are also successfully launching lines for the production of new Maserati models in Italian factories.
The cooperation with Fiat resulted in the award of the Capital Equipment Supplier of the Year title by the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group.
ED: The award for the best supplier of 2014, which was received by Autorobot, is one of the results of our cooperation. The rationale underlines the best-in-class service level, taking into account the exceptional quality and reliability of the delivered systems. It was emphasized that our company has always supported the technology with effective solutions, ensuring the highest standard of production processes for the bonnet and tailgate. For employees, this is not only a reason to be proud, but also a commitment.
BB: The Fiat Group entrusts us with making more and more parts of the welding equipment for new models. We have recently delivered 24 Fiat 500L production lines to the factory in Serbia. It was a large construction, carried out – as is usually the case – under time pressure. Everything has been started on time, the factory is running and the cars are selling well. Due to the necessity to use large resources in a short time, it was a challenge for both logisticians and designers, but in terms of technology and production it was a typical job for us.
Where are your clients investing now?
BB: Autorobot is currently carrying out part-line projects for Fiat for four new models, which are scheduled to go into production over the next two years at plants in Tofas in Turkey, Betim in Brazil, and Cassino and Mirafiori in Italy. We received this last implementation as a natural continuation of the lines for Maserati Quattroporte that were successfully implemented two years ago. Those solutions worked perfectly well, so we are still working.
ED: Generally speaking, the situation in Europe is stable and in the coming years it will not be the fastest growing market in the world. Interesting investments are made in Turkey, Brazil and the Asian market. More and more popular cars are being sold there, in which we want to participate.
We do not sell too many lines in Poland so far. Investments of automotive companies in new models are limited, but we plan to increase sales aimed at smaller companies – automotive suppliers, which are still growing in Poland and who have some potential. We estimate that the domestic market is slowly growing. We have Opel and VW investments, we are curious to see how the situation with the expected Fiat investment in Tychy will eventually develop. The coming year may explain a lot.
How are your car body welding lines created? How did Autorobot deal with the crisis?
ED: In 2009, the automotive industry stopped investments for some time. We also felt it, which is why aviation has appeared in our activity. We decided to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this promising industry, and since then we have implemented several interesting projects in this area. In cooperation with Actemium, we have equipped the Airbus hall, among others with assembly and transport devices for the A350 cabin plating, we have made equipment for the assembly of the air inlet to the engine and engine-wing connectors. This is a different scale of instrumentation – spacious, multi-story stations, the precision of which must be not less than that of instruments for the automotive industry. It is a very interesting experience, we hope that it will pay off in the future.
ED: In every factory, a car is produced in several stages, which constitute a certain closed technological cycle. We always talk about the pressing shop, welding shop, paint shop and final assembly. Welding is our domain. Production here is organized in lines, on which individual assemblies are created and then combined into a body body. And so we have lines for the production of the chassis, sides, roof, doors, etc. The lines on which individual assemblies combine to form the geometry of the car are very important. How all parts will work together depends on the quality of such a framework.
The entire line production cycle takes place in agreement with the customer. From him we get assumptions such as: production volume, level of robotization, line automation, layout, i.e. a place in the hall to be arranged. All these assumptions must be met in order to stay within the budget and the imposed deadlines. It is never easy, you must always act efficiently, being aware of the consequences of the adopted solutions for the pace, quality and costs of future production.
BB: The process is complicated and requires a lot of experience. You have to be substantive to the client’s assumptions, because achieving certain set parameters may cause complications in the later stages of the project. Therefore, the initial conceptual stages require the participation of top-class specialists, people with an open mind to new solutions, which often have to be checked in practical tests, not only theoretical.
So you have to consider a large number of complex elements each time?
ED: An important feature of the currently produced lines is their flexibility, designation for several models and efficient conversion, so as to maintain continuity of production. The use of robots on the line is as high as possible so that they do not stand idle. Changeovers are performed and they are used once for transport, moving between consecutive operations, and once for welding or precise positioning. Their software is used to control the work of not only the robot itself, but also the entire work cell, where the moving and interchangeable parts of the station interact with the robots.
In modern car factories, new models are introduced every few years, and at the same time many versions of the same car are created. Therefore, an important feature of the production line is its flexibility, understood as the ability to quickly change the model that is being produced. In practice, when you look at the line during production, you can see the entire cross-section of the models sold: cars in different versions are adjacent to each other, and the line adjusts to their production, the instrumentation changes during the production cycle, everything is supervised by automation ensuring execution programmed production plan. We have our own proprietary solutions in this area and we develop them.
BB: One of the most interesting projects in recent years has been the design of a new delivery van for IVECO. Due to the size of the stations and the degree of complexity, it was a real challenge for us. The stations were over 10 meters long, and the car body was over 100 versions for which lines had to be prepared. This resulted in the need to design many removable, sliding elements used depending on the version. The lines were robotic, fully controlled by automation. In addition, it was necessary to use the tooling from previous projects already existing in the customer’s factory, which always carries the risk of not matching all the elements. We performed a trial run at our house. We encountered quite a few logistical problems along the way, but in the end the lines were smoothly transferred to the customer and restarted. This ensured for him the shortest possible stoppage of production, and made us realize that we need even more space for this type of project. The new hall is already standing, we are proud of it and we expect another project of this type.
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The next lines created by Autorobot are implemented in a similar way, although they contain many variables. In the conceptual and design phase, on the basis of the preliminary design of the car body, optimal solutions are created together with the car manufacturer, which are to ensure the achievement of the assumed production volume in the part of the hall intended for this purpose. These arrangements change very often. The shape of the car also evolves over the course of the project. Therefore, a continuous modification process is included in the work of the Gliwice-based company.
“Once the design phase is approved, production starts. The lines are organized into several or a dozen stations, where the elements that make up the entire body are added successively. We start the production of the line with standard elements, even before the design is finished. In order for the station to be created, all its elements go through the welding shop, machining, paint shop, mechanical assembly, automation assembly, and control. Ready stations in a fixed order go to the customer’s factory and there we line them, program robots, conduct trials, start-up and initial production, ”says Bogdan Besala, the company’s chief technologist.
Must a series of production steps be carried out during the construction of a line?
BB: Our lines consist of hundreds of smaller components, some of which are made in our house and some we buy as commercial items. We have most of the necessary technological processes, starting with sheet metal cutting with a programmable gas / plasma burner and a water jet cutter, through welding, mechanical processing on typical machine tools (the largest boring machine houses objects with a size of 9 × 3.5 m), painting, assembly mechanical, automation assembly, 3D control.
We conduct almost the entire production process in-house and this is of great importance due to the experience that remains with us. We can also supervise the progress of production more easily. Outside, we only send large welded structures, specialized thermo-chemical treatment to our partners.
The integrated ERP system for company management watches over the entire production. All processes in the company go through this system, data is entered on an ongoing basis, we also receive reports on the progress, costs of projects, business, human resources and financial situation of the company on an ongoing basis. This allows you to react immediately and have your business under control.
The design office is important in this case. What is its activity focused on?
BB: Our design office works closely with the Italian company O.L.C.I. Engineering, which employs specialists with many years of experience in our industry. Designs the hall layout, line layout, 3D mechanical structures and 2D drawings, installations and automation. He also conducts simulations of robots. It is equipped with the necessary automotive standard software, i.e. Catia, Robcad, Process Simulate systems.
In Gliwice, we design smaller structures, modify and program CAD / CAM machine tools. Currently, we are also in the process of organizing an installation design office. Installation designs for all lines we perform, including automation, electric and pneumatic installations, will be created here.
ED: In addition to meeting all automotive and environmental standards, in order to be present on the market, you have to offer more than your competition. Our design office constantly allocates a certain part of the budget to research and development activities. We offer patented, proven solutions that are ahead of the competition in terms of reliability, price and flexibility.
What technical solutions are you currently introducing to your offer?
BB: In one of the current projects, we will be using technology developed for the aluminum trunk lid. This requires the use of special coatings for the working parts of instruments, because aluminum is a specific metal – lighter and less durable than steel, but sticks to the tools and causes them to wear faster.
ED: An example of a new organizational approach is the simulation of the layout of the target production hall where the line will work. This is a way to save commissioning time at the customer’s site, which is often under the pressure of ongoing production, and access to the line is possible only during a repair break or at the weekend.
For these reasons, can the company be optimistic about the future?
ED: Our location in Poland, in the context of the European market, is optimal – we have high quality and average prices. The lines and instruments made by us work in car factories in almost all European countries.
In order to appear on the market, you must first check yourself in smaller projects. You always have to sell an idea that gives you an advantage, because technical thought is the most important thing. Of course, the price and delivery time count. Experience is invaluable, because it allows you to optimally use proven solutions, work efficiently and inexpensively. When the client’s problems are effectively solved, you can always count on him to be taken into account in subsequent projects, because the client knows what to expect, values peace and confidence.
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An important element of the company’s operations is proposing new technological solutions. “There are several solutions that have been recognized by Fiat as standard, i.e. required for use on new lines, including our devices for crimping the rim of the engine cover, trunk or stations for removing elements from the line for periodic inspection. Our central monogeometry station, i.e. the place where the car’s floor meets the sides and the roof, to form the body of the body, also works very well – says Elwira Dziewa, President of the Management Board of Autorobot, and adds: – We are in the process of implementing an innovative program that will involve all employees in development work. The idea is that the ideas of employees in each position create the company’s value. They should be collected and implemented – for the good of the company and their authors.