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Maserati Wears Smart Tools for Auto Production Today and for the Future

Jim Lorincz
By Jim Lorincz Contributing Editor, SME Media

Smart wearable tools are setting the tone with Industry4.0 for Italy’s auto factories of the future in today’s Maserati plants. Developing and using technology within today’s Smart Factories is providing a level of intra-connectivity that is changing the very framework of modern manufacturing. As processes and people become increasingly connected, analytics and digitized information help reduce or even eliminate downtime. To help leverage the inherent advantages of digital manufacturing, Comau is providing the world’s top automakers with Industry 4.0-enabled systems and wearable technologies to help them experience higher productivity, better quality, faster time-to-market, and lower costs.

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Comau’s smart watch wearable man-machine interface enables operators to better certify the work cycle and exchange data with the central manufacturing and automation system for Industry 4.0 digitalization, helping Maserati move from “just in time” to “just in sequence” part delivery.

Industry 4.0, also known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), puts real-time production data at the disposal of the entire factory, thus creating a dynamic depository of shared intelligence. This can be a significant advantage in the automotive world where manufacturing constraints and reduced time-to-market requirements are commonplace, which is why Comau designs its automation solutions with Industry 4.0 in mind. Now, the global industrial automation leader is also developing intelligent and interactive wearable technologies that support workers while improving the quality and efficiency of the various industrial processes. So, when Maserati needed to build a new manufacturing line to produce the first SUV in Maserati’s history, the Italian automaker decided to put the benefits of Industry 4.0 to the test.

The Maserati Levante SUV would be built at Mirafiori, one of FCA’s historical manufacturing plants in Turin. In looking at how Maserati transformed Mirafiori to create a “smart” manufacturing environment, it’s important to understand that every vehicle produced on the manufacturing line has more than 5000 components with little standardization with regard to size, materials and technical specifications among them. For a manufacturing plant, this means that there can be millions of possible combinations, as no two vehicle models are the same. Here is where the power of digitalization can be seen. By creating a direct electronic dialog between production cells, the entire logistics chain becomes digitally interconnected. As such, Maserati can efficiently manage the variety, scalability, and convertibility of the factory while increasing its overall efficiency.

Maserati starts by coding each chassis with a unique identification number that is subsequently recognized throughout every stage of the manufacturing process. Once a chassis is coded, it is assigned the various components and production parameters needed to complete the individual vehicle. What this means is that the robotized production cells immediately recognize the vehicle specifics based on the chassis number. Looking at the five Comau articulated robots used to produce the front and rear aluminum doors, for example, the automated process integrates part handling, riveting, sealing, marriage, roller hemming, and spot welding. As the chassis moves through the production cycle, the digitally interconnected equipment delivers real-time production data when and where it is needed, helping reduce downtime while improving overall quality.

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Comau’s articulated robots are used within Maserati’s automated assembly process for the Levante GCO front and rear aluminum doors.

Digitized analytics provide Maserati with a wealth of information regarding production flows and vehicle throughput. This information is made available locally and remotely using tablets and mobile devices. Often referred to as Big Data, the analysis of such information and its distribution throughout the entire organization also provide Maserati with a powerful predictive and preventive maintenance tool. Because the diagnostic information is digitized, there is no longer a need for paper manuals or preemptive physical machine testing. Yet it’s the vast quantity of information available and the powerful analytics that work behind the scenes to analyze and process such diagnostic information that are even more important.

“The process and performance data collected by the robots and other systems on the line are automatically gathered and cross-referenced using advanced pattern recognition algorithms,” explained Comau’s Innovation Manager, Massimo Ippolito. “The analysis and interpretation are graphically represented in an immediate and user-friendly manner, which allows operators and engineers to quickly assess the health of the individual machines and identify potential break-downs or bottlenecks before they happen.”

For Maserati, this means being able to utilize mobile phones and tablets to access information regarding the real-time workflow of machinery. Because the operators can cross-reference process data with historical and statistical data, Maserati is able to proactively schedule maintenance or component replacement. Furthermore, the robots themselves are designed to interface with the operator, signaling the possibility of component wear. This allows operators to intervene before the issue can result in throughput inefficiencies or downtime; thus, ensuring the long-term repeatability and efficiency of the robots and more importantly, the quality of the manufacturing.

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Comau welding machine for aluminum equipped with tool stands and extractors.

“Finally,” Ippolito emphasized, “the use of mobile devices allows Maserati to remotely support the maintenance engineer during the technical service operations, and can also help with training and information programs. By exporting the workflow data, operators and technicians can remotely examine the manufacturing process in profound detail–complete with interactive tests to verify and facilitate learning.”

Smart manufacturing, Big Data, and shared intelligence are just part of the picture. The real advantage of Industry 4.0 lies with the interconnectedness of the information and the ease at which it can be distributed across the factory floor. Equipped with Comau/Engineering Informatica/Samsung-powered smart watches, operators can validate production steps and quality parameters at every stage of the process and with a click instantaneously share this information with up to 35 operators.

The man-machine interface not only becomes more immediate through mobile and wearable devices, operators are better able to certify the work cycle and exchange data with the central manufacturing system and other elements of the industrial automation process. As a result, the logistics process is also streamlined, helping Maserati move from “just in time” to “just in sequence” part delivery.

All said, the Industry 4.0 production system that Comau helped design leverages a combination of added-value manufacturing solutions backed by advanced technologies that simplify the interaction among and between the operators and the machines. This has allowed Maserati to experience higher productivity, which is always positive for any industrial manufacturer. Yet the real benefits of digital manufacturing are streamlined workflows, lower costs and most of all, better quality, which, in the end, is what Maserati is known for.

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