Forget the assembly line: Inside Kuka, the future is cells
TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan -- "The purest form of madness is to leave everything as it is and still hope that something will change."
That quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein, was used by Robert Kamischke, vice president of Kuka Systems's Smart Production division, to explain the German tooling supplier's outlook on the future of auto-making.
Kuka has reimagined traditional manufacturing from an assembly line to an automated matrix of cells. Kamischke said Kuka believes the system is a key to Industry 4.0 — a term that refers to revolutionary changes in factory practices and tools.
"You have not a line concept -- you have cells," Kamischke said during a presentation at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars. "Each cell has special capabilities."
Kuka expects to implement the system at a plant by 2020, he told Automotive News. The company already has utilized learnings from the system but not yet implemented it for an entire plant.
Instead of having a traditional assembly line, a plant moves parts on automated guided vehicles, which autonomously drive the parts to work cells as needed. The guided vehicles also continuously relay data to other such vehicles and plant engineers to ensure parts are being delivered to the proper areas.
According to Kamischke, the process enables versatile production on an industrial scale. For now, it is designed to be most efficient when assembling parts such as enclosures or substructures, including platforms for vehicles that have different propulsion options, he said.
The matrix can automatically convert itself as products change, without wait times and without lost production time, he said. That would lower inventories and increase flexibility, according to the company.
The cells can be individually expanded with additional equipment. Almost any factory process can be integrated, including welding, adhesive bonding, punching, brazing and clinching.
"It's a really smart, flexible production," Kamischke said.