TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Packaging flexible manufacturing into an assembly cell makes it possible for Cosma International Inc., a division of Magna International Inc., to center on niche and low-volume vehicles, Frank Horton, executive vice president-engineering, says at the Management Briefing Seminars here.

Cosma’s flexible cell is unique, Horton says. It has robots with collaborative motion, meaning they work together. For example, one may be programmed to grab and position a piece, the other to apply sealant. They are programmed individually and also have an ethernet connection between them to react to the other’s movements.

A flexible cell for doors, for example, can assemble two doors, a decklid and hood in the same cell at a rate of 40,000 vehicles a year, Horton demonstrates with video of the cell at work.

Changes can be made with virtually no downtime. It is a matter of reprogramming the robots, swapping the end-of-arm tooling and changing the remote laser-welding program. Five minutes later, the robots can be performing a different function, Horton says.

Frank Horton of Cosma.

Flex-cell architecture has the flexibility to convert to different programs, volumes, processes and systems, Horton explains. And that makes it possible to do multiple products on the same line, requiring less cost and using less floor space.

The modular cell is less complex than a conventional one. Horton says it can reduce the amount of floor space required by 26%-75%. Capital investment is reduced by 24% and manpower can be trimmed by 50%. Laser welding can cut the amount of spot welding needed as much as 80%, he says.

Other benefits include better ergonomics for operators and high quality with the repeatability of collaborative motion.

Horton says the cells also can be used for body side assembly and chassis systems. A complete underbody system is under construction for an undisclosed auto maker. It should be in production in the next six months.

Cosma relies on a new 50,000-sq.-ft. (4,645-sq.-m) research and development facility to introduce new assembly technologies and processes.

The potential is for major cuts in cost and timing for future model changeovers, Horton says.