Reliable assembly of gear shift modules
FTE automotive has succeeded in pioneering a new type of gear shift module made from high-performance plastic. No less impressive is the highly complex modular automated assembly line behind the product.
The market for gear shift modules is experiencing a boom. They are used in dual-clutch transmissions and are responsible for actuating the shift forks. FTE automotive has developed a gear shift module made of high-performance polyamide plastic, which is 35 percent lighter than its aluminum equivalent. Four cylinders with two switching positions each are integrated into the plastic housing. The module can thus select seven forward gears and one reverse.
A great deal of expertise has been invested in the assembly of the modules, not only by FTE, but also by the engineering specialists at M.A.i., who built the plant. The assembly process is comprised of 50 steps, and more than 30 functional tests integrated into the system. When the plant starts to run at full capacity, it will produce around one million gear shift modules per year. To maintain cycle times, various stages of the process will be doubled up to avoid congestion along the line.
Use of robots ensures maximum flexibility
One look at the plant reveals the complexity of the process. Namely the applicationof a sealing bead, with height measurement by means of high-resolution cameras, numerous test stations for assembly, measuring and leak-proofing, ultrasonic welding stations, for fully automated laser welding systems, teach/test stations for reverberation sensors, and much more. It all goes to show how much technological expertise has gone into the plant.
To lay all this complexity out in such a way that it is manageable, M.A.i. developed a system concept based on hexagonal robot cells with six integrated function satellites. At the core of each cell is a Stäubli robot, which is grouped by the satellites in the form of processing and testing stations. The individual cells of the plant are linked together via feed and discharge belts. The decisive advantage of this solution is that the system can be expanded at any time by the addition of further robot cells for time-critical processes, and thus perfectly adapted as FTE expands its production capacity.
Flexible, commercially viable production in a cleanroom environment
When complete, the plant will have 13 robots, including four-axis models and a variety of six-axis models. They will perform broad ranges of tasks around the clock in a three-shift operation. All of these machines have one thing in common, their origin. Throughout the entire plant, only industrial robots supplied by Stäubli are in use. This is because they are ideal for performing tasks of such complexity under cleanroom conditions. Thanks to their enclosed structure with its electrical work on the inside, they already comply with cleanroom criteria, even in their standard configuration. Furthermore, Stäubli robots are all ESD-proof (i.e. they do not allow the build-up of electrostatic charge), a feature that is considered absolutely essential by FTE. Other advantages are they work quickly, precisely, and dependable.
M.A.i. has placed the compact six-axis TX60 for component handling in the four integrated laser beam welding systems, the large, ultra-fast SCARA TS 80 in robot cell number one, but it is the Stäubli TX90 which is used in most of the other robot cells. This six-axis model with its compact design has a long range so that it can easily reach the individual function satellites of the cells.
Thanks to intelligent reliable automation, only fully tested and accurately calibrated gear shift modules leave the plant. In terms of quality, cycle time, and availability, FTE is completely satisfied with the plant and with Stäubli industrial robots.