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CLPA brings assured reliability to Ford Mustang production

CLPA brings assured reliability to Ford Mustang production
The ease of installation and commissioning of new production lines at the AutoAlliance car plant in Flat Rock Michigan were early benefits of the adoption of CC-Link networking technology at the heart of the automation system. And more was to come, with this proven, high-speed network proving the ultimate in reliability, particularly when compared with other network options.

The AutoAlliance facility in Flat Rock manufactures both the award-winning Mazda 6 and the mighty Ford Mustang, one of the icons of the Ford marque. The plant produces over 1200 vehicles every day, using the most up-to-date automated assembly technologies. Over 400 robots are used to make more than 6,000 body welds on each vehicle; while a further 61 robots and ten automatic paint machines apply seals, sound deadening material and any one of 24 paint colours to each vehicle. 

With reliability the watchword in modern automotive manufacture, AutoAlliance engineers knew that their choice of fieldbus would be one of the keys to smooth production. And for the assembly and paint operations, they chose to standardise on CC-Link, the high speed, high performance, open networking technology managed by CLPA (CC-Link Partner Association). Key to this choice was CC-Link's ability to provide effective networking over distances up to 13.2km - important at the Flat Rock facility which is a 2.7 million square foot operation - and its proven performance in even the most hostile of manufacturing environments.

Each vehicle body travels approximately 13 miles through the Flat Rock plant in the course of production, through numerous welding, assembly and painting stations. CC-Link forms the communications backbone for the inverters the drive the complex conveyor system, helping to ensure that each section of car body is exactly where it needs to be, precisely when it needs to be there.

A series of conveyors, controlled via CC-Link, move car bodies through the numerous welding, assembly, and painting stations. Each vehicle travels approximately 13 miles in the course of production. Pictured here is a Power and Free (P&F) conveyor. The motors that power the conveyors throughout the facility are controlled by Mitsubishi VFD Drives communicating via CC-Link.

Key aspects of production include the assembly and welding operations. Five CC-Link network masters handle all communications through this vital area. One provides all communications between the control panels within the body shop, with the remaining four controlling the materials handling equipment, robots and welding operations. In all, the robust networking technology reliably links over 125 control panels within the Mustang body shop, and a further 125 control panels in the Mazda body shop.

Also within the body shop, CC-Link networking is used for communications to control the jig bed that holds and folds large sections of the auto body, and to control and coordinate numerous Kawasaki robots within this manufacturing cell. The network is used to start and stop each robot movement as they position, weld and move on various car body parts, and also enables the robots to communicate their positions to each other in order to avoid collisions. In all, around 400 robots in the body assembly part of the facility are connected via CC-Link, and the robust network also provides communication to and from the various PLCs and operator interfaces within the various assembly cells.

The paint line is another critical area of production, and here again AutoAlliance chose to standardise on CC-Link for the automation network. State of the art Fanuc P500 robots apply one of 24 different paint colours, and once this finish colour has been applied a further line of robots applies two coats of clear paint over the vehicle body. 

Throughout the paint line, AutoAlliance uses the latest in pollution abatement equipment. The strong fumes generated during the body paint process are incinerated to neutralise harmful compounds before being vented to the atmosphere. Five inverters each control a huge fan to exhaust the fumes from the paint line and pass them through catalytic oxidisers, and the drives are again networked via CC-Link.

With upwards of 95% of the controls with the body assembly portion of the facility alone connected over CC-Link, the choice network at the outset was critical, but the control engineers at AutoAlliance are confident they made absolutely the right choice, commenting: "The ease of assembly line start-up and excellent reliability of CC-Link has translated into a highly productive manufacturing facility. The speed at which these new lines were installed and commissioned resulted in significant savings in comparison to other networked systems used previously."

Reliability has also been a key aspect of the CC-Link installation, with the control engineers reporting not a single network failure since the line has been running. This is in stark contrast to other areas of the plant, with a number of failures experienced on industrial Ethernet portions of the network and with two other commonly used fieldbuses. 

CLPA-Europe General Manager Steve Jones comments: "These experiences are typical of the benefits offered by CC-Link in demanding manufacturing operations. The technology has proved itself time and again in the most hostile of network environments. In areas such as automotive manufacture, downtime is extremely expensive. But you also have to consider the safety aspects of network failures: the AutoAlliance facility for example employs over 3,700 people, and the consequences of a network failure could potentially be fatal. CC-Link ticks all the boxes by offering standard, safety-specific and bit-bus level options for the industry's most robust and reliable fieldbus technology."

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