Engine plant uses ABB’s collaborative robot to improve quality and avoid stoppages

A BMW Group engine plant in Steyr, Austria is using an ABB collaborative robot to move components between processing stations, avoiding damage and production stoppages caused by conventional conveyor systems


The application: 
Transport of engine connecting rods (conrods) components   

The challenge: 
Take conrods from one machine and transfer them to another station, preventing damage and stoppages    

The solution: 
An ABB GoFa™ cobot moves connecting rods from one conveyor belt to another, taking up minimal space whilst offering the flexibility to be easily reprogrammed to handle other components  

A BMW Group engine plant in Austria has cut stoppages and scrap on a component production line, improved its flexibility and saved space with the help of an ABB GoFa™ collaborative robot. 

The plant, located at Steyr in Austria, is BMW Group’s largest engine plant, producing 3-, 4- and 6-cylinder petrol and diesel engines as well as an increasing number of EV components for BMW and MINI cars. At peak times, the plant produces up to 5,500 engines per day. 

One part of the production line is the manufacture of connecting rods for the engines. These rods need to move from one machine to another for further processing. Previously, this was achieved using a curved conveyor. As the parts moved through the curve, they could become stuck, collide with each other, and suffer scratching. 

To find a solution for this issue, BMW Group plant Steyr worked with Austrian systems integrator Nomotec to achieve its idea of creating a two-belt linear conveyor system that removed the curve. This solution requires the parts to be picked off one conveyor and placed on the other using a robot. 

The options were a traditional industrial robot or a collaborative robot, known as a cobot. An industrial robot would need safety barriers and there was not enough space around the machinery to accommodate these. Another factor was that human workers would sometimes need to move conrods from one conveyor to another. Cobots can work safely with humans, as they don’t require safety barriers. This also saves space around the production area.  

Trust in ABB 

BMW Group plant Steyr chose to install the ABB GoFa cobot to move the parts. The plant’s maintenance department already had very good experience with ABB robots and had been using them for a long time. Sticking with ABB also meant that ordering and installing spare parts would be easier and commonality between systems also meant that the new robot would be much easier to learn, operate and support.  

The planning and installation of the new robot was made easier by using ABB RobotStudio®, ABB’s simulation and offline programming software. Using RobotStudio, robot programming can be done on a PC, allowing training, programming and optimization tasks to be performed without the need to access a real robot. 

homas Nowotny, project manager for Nomotec, says that RobotStudio was used from the very early stages of the offering phase: “We used RobotStudio to confirm the cycle times of the applications, as well as how much floor space would be needed and how it would be used with other machines. RobotStudio was also used for programming and code writing and to check the safety functionalities of the robot.”

“Although it was our first cobot used in a real installation, with support and collaboration from ABB it was very easy to install the robot and get it configured safely,” says Nowotny. 
“Opting for a cobot was also very useful as you need to invest less thinking time into making the machine safe compared to an industrial robot.” 
More flexible production 

One of the major benefits of the cobot is that it allows all types of conrods to be handled in the plant. Previously, BMW Group plant Steyr needed to switch the conveyor system around to accommodate the handling of different designs of conrod. This can now be achieved by simply reprogramming the ABB cobot, which has programs to enable it to handle different conrod weights up to 600g.  

“The sensitivity of the ABB GoFa cobot is also impressive,” says Nowotny. “With its pre-prepared interface, it was easy to integrate with a gripper from our partner, allowing it to handle the complex geometry of the conrods.” 

Without safety fences, workers can also move conrods manually if needed. “Since the robot was installed on site, there have been no stops on the machine resulting from changeovers or potential problems on the line,” says Peter Nöbauer, project manager for BMW Group plant Steyr. 

Another major benefit is the floor space saved. The current installation takes up around two to three square meters, while the company would need an additional five square meters of space with a conventional industrial robot. The free floor space allows workers to move easily around the installation. 

The robot has also been well received by the workers at the factory. “At first, workers didn’t really know what to expect,” says Nöbauer. “After they saw it working, they have been excited and impressed and can really see the benefits to the factory.” 

BMW Group plant Steyr was ABB’s first GoFa customer as they realized the potential for this cobot. The engine plant is investigating what further production tasks could be handled by ABB GoFa robots. 

About Nomotec 
Located near Vienna, Nomotec Anlagenautomationstechnik GmbH (https://www.nomotec.at/ ) is a long-standing ABB partner specializing in planning and building highly efficient production plants and innovative machine tools. With a team of 27 people, it offers a range of services, including design and electrical planning, control technology and manufacturing, through to mechanical and electrical assembly, commissioning, and service and support. Through conversions and optimization of existing plants and machines, Nomotec helps its customers to adapt to new production requirements to maximize long term economic performance and safe operation.  

ABB (ABBN: SIX Swiss Ex) is a leading technology company that vigorously promotes the transformation of business and industry into a more productive and sustainable future all over the world. Thanks to the connection of its portfolio in the areas of electrification, robotics, automation and drive technology with software, ABB defines the boundaries of technological feasibility and thus enables new peak performance. ABB looks back at a successful history spanning over 130 years. The success of the company is based on the talent of its nearly 105,000 employees in more than 100 countries. www.abb.com  

ABB Robotics & Discrete Automation is a pioneer is the area of robotics, machine automation as well as digital services, and offers innovative solutions for a variety of sectors, spanning from the automotive industry to the electronics industry and logistics. As one of the leading global suppliers of robotics and machine automation, we have provided over 500,000 robotics solutions. We help our customers of all sizes increase their productivity and flexibility, simplify processes and improve product quality. Moreover, we support them on the path to networked and collaborative factories of the future. ABB Robotics & Discrete Automation employs a staff of over 10,000 people at over 100 sites in more than 53 countries. www.abb.de/robotics  


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