Dance of the robots
future of production | More than 500 robots manufacture the body shell of the smart fortwo. Uwe Kasper and Michael Schumacher, together with their project team, got the entire process rolling – and thanks to great teamwork, in record time too.
Sparks fly in the Hambach plant as orange robots work to weld the sides of the smart fortwo car body to the floor of the vehicle. Slowly but surely the contours of the new city car begin to take shape – reason to be proud for Uwe Kasper and Michael Schumacher.
The two are part of the thyssenkrupp System Engineering team that built up the complete body production process. It planned, fabricated, constructed, and commissioned the systems, and programmed the robots. Once construction began at the facility site, it only took eight months to prepare for the first production test of the entire assembly line.
The manufacturing operation is laid out over around 12,000 square meters in three different halls.
It starts in hall 23 where the longitudinal members are mounted on the rear underbody. This is one of the few stations in which humans still lend a hand, presenting body parts that are then welded and further processed by the robots. In parallel with the rear underbody, the middle section of the smart underbody also prepares for its journey in hall 23.
Via various stations, conveyor belts and monorails the process continues in hall 2. Here, the robots join together the front, middle, and rear sections of the underbody. According to site manager Michael Gard, this is one of the most important stations because it is here that the geometry of the vehicle is determined.
In hall 52 the framer finally joins the vehicle underbody with the side components, giving the car its characteristic shape. The robots join the roughly 300 parts together with approximately 3,200 spot welds before the finished body moves to the neighboring paint shop.
In carrying out the project the team benefited from having designed the systems for the previous model. Its production continued while the new stations were being installed: “We had to build around the old systems. In some cases, facilities even had to be expanded vertically, incorporating a second level”, explains project manager Raimund Kuhn.
“The key to success was good teamwork.” It was a major challenge to coordinate the expectations of the client Daimler, co-developer Renault and the system operator Magna.
In addition to these major companies, various local businesses were involved. “We had up to 365 employees from different companies working at the construction site. Altogether, people from 17 different countries were involved in the project.”
Hard to believe how much work goes into such a small car, isn´t it?