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Ford assembly plant Saarlouis, Germany

Suspension track system extension - A typical case for VIPA.

Founded in 1970, the Ford Capri, the Ford Mustang equivalent for the European market, was one of the first models produced at the Saarlouis location. The mining and steel industries dominated the region at this time. Today, the automobile industry is one of the most significant industrial sectors, mainly due to Ford. The Saarlouis factory has produced more than 13 million Ford models, making this factory one of the most efficient and productive automobile factories in Europe.

A turnkey solution partner involved

Flexible production is essential to Ford, producing up to five different models per production line at the factory in Saarlouis. They use the know-how of companies such as RESA System Gmbh, a specialist in automation engineering and implementing to adapt accordingly. Upcoming type integrations of one of the models required, among other things, the expansion of an existing electrical suspension track system. This system is used in the body-shell area and transports many single parts to each production line, where they are clamped and welded to form the complete body shell that will later be measured and prepared for further processing.

Powerful alternative needed

"This project needed a solution that strengthens our competitiveness," said Oliver Biwer, the account and project manager from RESA Systems. Here, the price-performance ratio was not only important. "We also looked for an automation vendor who is particularly reliable and offers fast support, also on weekends and holidays. The hardware needed was to include specific interfaces and to be compact. On top of it, we needed components, which we could change and adapt without interrupting the entire system. Last but not least, we did not want to set up the complete installation anew," said Oliver Biwer.

The most challenging task was the implementation of an additional identification system. Until now, the production data had been written on data mediums of the suspension in the electrical suspension track so that the following processing stations could identify which type to weld next. As the existing Moby I system became discontinued, they needed a new way to mark the workpieces for the extension.

Nothing runs without the right interfaces

Together with Ford and after detailed testing, they decided to deploy an RF Ident system on a UHF basis that would make the single parts identifiable for the production line through an RFID data medium. Therefore, the equipped plant components with this system require a PROFINET connection, and the existing plant components worked via PROFIBUS. A CPU that included both interfaces would be required

Oliver Biwer found the solution with the controllers of the VIPA 300 series. "We already had used the products in other projects and were always very satisfied," he said. Recently, we equipped a large facility at SAS Automotive Systems. That confirmed that we should continue and extend the cooperation with VIPA for the upcoming project at Ford.

Fast and cost-conscious conversions

"The STEP7 compatibility of the VIPA controllers particularly impressed us," said Oliver Biwer about the main advantage, "not only can our engineers implement the controllers immediately, but also the maintenance technicians at the customer site." There are further advantages of this compatibility: "Existing inventory of I/O modules that are still in the customer's warehouse can be used step by step. We only deploy the new, powerful controllers – the rest of the hardware just keeps running. This brings operation reliability for the customer, and the commissioning can be completed within a very short time, over the weekend."

Another crucial advantage is that all interfaces required, such as PROFIBUS, MPI, Ethernet, and PROFINET, are already included in the VIPA CPU 315PN. Whereas with other vendors, you have to buy them separately, in addition to the CPUs. Also, the embedded memory of VIPA controllers is considerably larger than compared to other vendors. These advantages allow Ford to reduce their hardware costs by up to 50%.

On-road test successfully passed

In a six-week trial period, the SPEED7 CPUs from VIPA were integrated into a line and checked intensively. "The conversion was completed very fast, and since then, everything runs trouble-free without any interruptions," said Oliver Biwer. Ford purchased several CPUs as a pilot installation for the extension of the electrical suspension track. The existing I/O cards and the cross-system communication via the PROFIBUS connection remained unchanged. "Due to the performance of the VIPA CPUs, the 300 series is sufficient in most cases. Before that, one had to use larger controllers from other vendors," said Oliver Biwer. "Because of the switch to the compact VIPA high-performance CPUs, the required space reduction of 20% can easily be complied with as well."

This project is a significant milestone for upcoming joint projects at Ford in Saarlouis, Germany.

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