An automotive production plant for Volvo has boosted its productivity and efficiency with advanced measurement systems. Article by Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence.
With some 2400 employees, Volvo Car Body Components (VCBC) in Olofström is an automotive production plant that produces millions of car body parts every year. From hoods and roofs to doors and subassemblies, the facility is dedicated to pressing sheet metal into vital car components that are shipped whole or partially assembled to Volvo car factories around the world for final assembly and finishing.
The earliest production stages of the car design process at Volvo rely heavily on the development of the sheet metal stamping tools designed and manufactured by the Tool and Die team at Olofström. The team is first responsible for producing tool prototypes, and with up with up to 80 tools needed for a vehicle project this can be a four-to-five-month task. Each project typically runs for a year, and the remainder of the time is dedicated to producing the final tooling that will be used to press hundreds of thousands of car body components.
In 2018, the team decided it was time to introduce a modern metrology solution to their tool prototyping and production with the goal of improving productivity. They identified several key steps in their design, production and validation process that could potentially benefit from the introduction of advanced measurement devices. Having a large and well-equipped quality room already in place, the team was already familiar with a wide range of metrology hardware. One of their key considerations was identifying a solution that would be as at home on the shop floor as it was in the quality room.
Improving the Initial Casting
The first step in producing a designed prototype or final tool is the precision milling of a casted block of raw material. Casting is not a precise process, and the casted part is typically delivered with a lot of excess raw material that must be subsequently milled down to the correct size and shape.
A key step in setting up a casted part for milling is ensuring there is no collision between the milling machine and part as they are both moved into position. Such a collision can result in expensive and time-consuming damage to the CNC milling machine. Therefore, the operator must introduce a safety factor when setting things up – positioning the machine far enough away from the material that they are sure no collision will occur. Doing this by eye is not easy, and often means that the milling machine spends a significant amount of time at the beginning of its program milling nothing.
“When you can optimise the milling program to the actual size of the material, that’s the big time saving, because it doesn’t matter if the machine goes through the air or through the material, it’s the same speed,” said Kim Tingstedt, Tool and Die Operator at VCBC Olofström.
This optimisation was already being performed, but with the comprehensive data provided by a scanner, things could be much easier. This casting scan data can be used in other ways to improve production. Tool castings are extremely heavy and difficult to move, so any possibility to make them lighter improves their usability and reduces the amount of raw material required to make them. This means they have to be as small as possible – but not too small; if not enough material is left between the outside of the tool and the inside of its precision mould, it won’t be strong enough to withstand repeated high-power stamping.
Using scan data taken after casting, the casting of subsequent prototypes and final tools can be refined to ensure the minimum weight and raw material usage is achieved without diminishing the structural integrity of the tool. This also has the benefit of allowing the milling machine to begin its work closer to the final part shape with each iteration, compounding the time savings at every step.
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