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Ford assembly plant Saarlouis, Germany – Suspension track system extension.
A typical case for VIPA.

The Ford Capri (the Ford Mustang equivalent for the European market) was one of the first models produced at the location in Saarlouis, which was founded in 1970. At that time, the region was still dominated by the mining and steel industries. Today, the automobile industry is one of the most important industrial sectors – mainly due to Ford. More than 13 million Ford models have been produced here, 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. To adapt accordingly, Ford uses the know-how of companies such as RESA System GmbH, a specialist in automation engineering and implementation. An existing electrical suspension track system needed to be expanded. In this area of the body-shell work, many single parts that later form the body, are conveyed and transported to each production line via this system, where the elements are clamped and welded, so that finally the complete body-shell, the so called body, is measured and prepared for further processing.

Powerful alternative needed

“This project needed a solution that strengthens our competitiveness,” said key account and project manager, Oliver Biwer from RESA Systems. Here, not only the price performance ratio was 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 difficult 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 had to be welded next. As the existing Moby I system was discontinued, a new possibility to mark the work pieces for the extension had to be found.

Nothing runs without the right interfaces

After detailed testing, together with Ford, it was decided to deploy an RF Ident system on UHF basis, which makes the single parts identifiable for the production line through a RFID data medium. Therefore, the plant components, which are equipped with this system, require a PROFINET connection. The existing plant components worked via PROFIBUS. Here a CPU was required that included both interfaces.

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.” The compatibility has further advantages: “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 period of 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 then 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. Several CPUs were bought as a pilot installation for the extension of the electrical suspension track. The existing I/O cards and the cross-system communication via PROFIBUS connection remained unchanged. “Due to the performance of the VIPA CPUs, the 300 series is sufficient in most cases. Prior to 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 definitely an important milestone for upcoming joint projects at Ford in Saarlouis, Germany.