Automotive manufacturing is a complex process and the manufacturers have to adopt new methods to improve production efficiency.
FREMONT, CA: Manufacturing technology has evolved dramatically over the past two decades. Automotive manufacturers have adopted methods to reduce labor and material overheads while improving productivity, efficiency, and component quality. While some industry segments are quick to adopt new manufacturing technologies, a few are slow to adopt. Automotive manufacturers are reluctant to adopt due to the current system that dictates separate manufacturing plants and lines for every vehicle model. Moreover, the workforces resist any technology that could eliminate jobs. Lastly, automakers cannot tweak their manufacturing methods with adequate speed to adopt new technologies.
Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers are taking the role of technological innovators in areas such as R&D, new product development, and tooling and production as larger automotive OEMs continue to cut production and staff. The suppliers are competent enough to offer complete assemblies such as door and roof panels, instrument panels, and other kitted components. Presently, automation plays a significant role in vehicle manufacturing. Initially, robotics was the trend, but advanced software gave them the edge in reducing carmakers' unit labor content. Union leaders opposed the adoption of robotics, but as the pressure to maintain workforce levels increased, Tier One suppliers quickly adopted the technology. The suppliers reaped benefits such as production efficiencies and becoming leaders in the field.
For more than a decade, welding has been on the leading edge of manufacturing technology advances. Adopting the welding process to the thick metal plate used in the production of large vehicles such as earth moving equipment is one of the biggest challenges of automating the welding process. Adopting the automated welding of the thick metal plate has helped large vehicle manufacturers in attaining new efficiency levels using a robot with a 24mm throat and reducing the welding times by 40 percent. By automating this process, the companies witnessed improved process times, translating into cost savings.
Rapid prototyping was introduced in the early 1990s, with the advent of stereolithography (SLA). Rapid prototyping gave manufacturers an idea of what the final part would look like, but these demonstrators could not be tested or used like original parts. As rapid prototyping developed, rapid manufacturing was born. Today, it is known as additive technology, which means that parts are built layer by layer using a variety of powered polymers and metals. It is not used in mass production yet, but it will be implemented in the near future.