Did you know the world record for the fastest 400 meter sprint is 43.03 seconds or that French swimmer Amaury Leveaux covered 100 meters in 44.94 seconds? While records are set in a matter of seconds in the fast-paced world of sports, they are very hard to come by in manufacturing, which is why GAC Motor’s automobile production facility in Yichang, China is so remarkable. At the company’s smart factory it takes only 46 seconds to assemble the parts of a car at the body-in-white workshop, creating a new benchmark in the world of automotive manufacturing. Making this possible is an array of cutting-edge technology, including a variety of high performance robotic solutions from ABB.
The body-in-white workshop is fitted with a series of flexible manufacturing solutions that offer maximum performance, efficiency and quality, including a flexible GateFramer assembly system and an ABB FlexTrack flexible rail setup and workstations for gluing and assembling parts.
With a huge investment the Yichang factory is a world-class facility equipped with the latest technology for automotive manufacturing. GAC Motor Yichang factory has worked closely with ABB since 2018 to design a production layout that would help it reach its goal of assembling a vehicle body in 46 seconds.
“46 seconds is a time limit that we have never challenged before. In fact, the speed of the world’s major production lines is about 60 seconds and the faster ones can reach 51 seconds,” said Zhengghao Dong, ABB’s Global Body-in-White Product Manager.
A key challenge was to achieve 72 tack welds within the 46-second window, with each weld taking up to 4 to 5 seconds to ensure a high strength, precision weld, whilst the setup needed to meet the customer’s requirement of flexible co-production of multi models on different platforms and to switch between car models without affecting the normal production sequence.
After weeks of rigorous data analysis and planning, ABB decided to break the 14-robot design limit of its GateFramer assembly system, adding an extra four to help achieve GAC’s desired production speed of 46 seconds. The setup was equipped with eight high-performance IRB 6700 robots and 10 IRB 6650s robots that can complete the positioning of the car body parts within 10 seconds and weld 72 joints on the entire car body in just 16 seconds.
In 2019, the ABB GateFramer equipped with 18 robots was installed and started volume production of car bodies in the Yichang factory. This is ABB's flexible vehicle assembly station with the most robots and the fastest speed in the world.
Unlike traditional framing systems that need to be custom-built for each car model, the ABB GateFramer assembly system has a standardized design that allows up to six car models to be assembled on the same production line without interruption. Manufacturers can simply switch between models by simply swapping the gates that hold the tooling of a car model.
Along the main line of the welding workshop of the Yichang factory, a 96-meter long ABB FlexTrack rail has been installed to transfer the vehicle body across the factory floor. The servo driven parts conveyor takes only six seconds to transfer the car body from one position to another and has a circulating speed of 1500mm/s, allowing production cycle time to reach 46 seconds.
Car accessories and interiors such as seats and wheels are assembled by two IRB 6700 robots at the general assembly workshop. Four of the same IRB 6700 robots have been installed for the gluing and assembly of front and rear windshields.
Thanks to the high speed and reliability of the ABB robots, the annual production capacity of the Yichang factory is 200,000 vehicles with 500 finished car bodies rolling off the production line in one single shift. In June 2019, GAC Motor started producing the GA6 mid-size sedan at the Yichang factory, with product quality and production efficiency fully meeting expectations. This year GAC Motor is taking full advantage of the ability to seamlessly add new car model lines and will introduce the production of the GS4 model, followed by a new electric vehicle.