“Never make predictions, especially about the future.” — Casey Stengel
Going into 2020, all economic indicators pointed to another solid year for the automotive industry – low unemployment, low interest rates, predictable labor contracts, and more stable international trade rules. In the January/February issue of Today’s Motor Vehicles and in a follow-up webinar, I predicted another year of at least 17 million new vehicle sales.
When I wrote the outlook story, the COVID-19 outbreak was a small story in China, something that wasn’t even causing much of a stir there. By the time I recorded the webinar in February, the novel coronavirus had spread widely in China but hadn’t yet reached Italy or the United States. So, I predicted it might threaten U.S. supplies of components from China but didn’t appear to be a major threat.
Clearly, I was wrong. As I write this, Italy is on lockdown, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and luxury automakers there have shuttered production for at least several weeks. Closures quickly followed in France, Spain, and Germany. In the United States, as of mid-March, Ford, General Motors, and FCA have shuttered their plants, and other automakers are pausing production as well.
Several cities and counties are under complete lockdown with people being told to stay at home, leaving only for work or grocery shopping. Trips to car dealerships will almost certainly fall in March and April. It’s far too early to predict the full-year impact of the virus on demand or the ability of companies to produce new vehicles. The entire global economy is watching to see how quickly this disease spreads and how deadly it will be, and until we know those answers, a massive cloud of uncertainty will overhang all industries.
It’s possible that the threat will pass quickly, that the strong measures being taken by federal and state governments to encourage social distancing will slow COVID-19’s spread and that medical professionals will develop better treatments for those infected (Update: March 29, 2020: White House recommends nationwide shelter-in-place procedures through April 30). If that’s the case, auto sales lost in March and April will take place in May, June, and July, and 2020 will end the year in the same strong stance it began.
Businesses are evaluating their production plans, updating hygiene policies in plants, developing contingencies for unavailable supplies, and working with creditors to ensure liquidity through the crisis. At Today’s Motor Vehicles, we plan to continue focusing coverage on the news, processes, and technologies that can improve operations in good times and bad.
While few people alive today have seen school shutdowns and mass health screenings at the scale the world is currently experiencing, we have seen many crises, and we’ve learned from them.
“I understand how uncertain these times feel. For many of us, it’s our first experience of this type,” General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra says. “But disruption and trying circumstances are not new to us. Especially in times like these, we demonstrate our flexibility, agility, and resilience. This team always rises to the occasion, and just as we have in the past, we will chart our course.”
1) For high-volume aluminum engine blocks and power-trains, what are some best practices to speed production while meeting quality specs?
Reliable, accurate, high-speed tooling solutions are mandatory, and the tooling supplier must offer the best selection of standard tools for aluminum machining and be able to provide custom solutions for automotive component production.
Best practices are using the most advanced polycrystalline diamond (PCD) solutions; accurate, balanceable tools and holders; minimum quantity lubrication (MQL); feed-out solutions; bi-metal capability for cast-in ferrous metal requirements; and digital solutions for tool-data monitoring.
2) You offer several specialized solutions for cylinder boring and cylinder-head machining. What advantages come from these engineered solutions?
Sandvik Coromant’s Automotive Custom Solutions Group has designed and produced tools that do one-shot boring from rough to finish; we have dampened solutions; and we even have developed coolant-actuated feed-out tools. Our designs allow for flexible application of multiple step boring inserts.
Finishing can be coupled with post-process gaging to feed data to the machine controller, instructing the spindle to place an element on the end of the tool and turn the tool slightly. This precisely adjusts the cutting diameter to automatically compensate for tool wear.
Our engineers also work with machine tool builders to implement programmable drawbar actuated tools, as many builders now offer such technology through their custom spindle interfaces. We can also offer a wide variety of cylinder head valve guide and seat tools.
3) Can producers eliminate aluminum machining processes to reduce cycle times and costs?
Sandvik Coromant solutions for aluminum include unique, patented cutter designs that make trouble-free, accurate, burr-free milling possible. These designs combine axial and radial step insert placement and high-feed milling technology. For example, our M5C90 cutter offers rough and finish milling in one pass – in many cases up to 6.0mm axial depth. We have seen tool life extended 5x with 200% cycle time reduction. Speeds as high as 6,000m/min. and feed rates as high as 20,000mm/min. are possible.
For complex surfaces such as transmission valve body faces, we can eliminate costly secondary process deburring with the M5F90. It also uses step technology with precise, long-lasting, brazed-in PCD tips.
The step technology in our M5-B-, C-, and F-series of cutters allows each cutting edge to progressively remove a bit more material – axially and radially – similar to a broach but in a circular configuration. The last tooth is a wiper design that provides superior finish and flatness. It also eliminates complex and time-consuming pre-setting procedures because the wiper and teeth are fixed.
We also have a unique CBN cutter, M610, that will finish the top deck of a cylinder block or bed plates, both aluminum cast-in iron materials. It requires no setup and no adjustment, and results in high feed rates without chipping, burring, or scratching on the parts.
Freedom family 3D articulating arm metrology systems are available as 6-axis or 7-axis models with two accuracy levels for each and six size options – a total of 24 variations. The 6-axis model is for touch probing, and a 7-axis version supports multi-sensor metrology including laser scanning. Sizes offer up to 197" (5m) reach.
The portable arms can support line-side measuring and inspection in factories or in-process quality control on machine tools. Freedom Classic models are entry level systems with lower resolution, while higher-resolution Freedom Select models come with a calibration bar.
Carbon fiber tubular construction ensures stability. Infinite rotation and a counterbalance make manual movements light, promoting ease of use. Wi-Fi connectivity and battery power allow wireless touch probing for maximum flexibility. The arms can be stowed and locked in place between measurements or during relocation. The largest Freedom arm model weighs less than 24 lb (11kg).
Absolute rotary encoders feed angular position data for every joint to control software, so the equipment can be used immediately on start-up, avoiding probe calibration before use. An LCD display with a quick-access menu on the probe wrist offers useful information directly to the operator.
LK Metrology https://www.lkmetrology.com
Profilator systems offer polygon-, face-slot machining; gear-tooth pointing; chamfering, deburring; gear and spline cutting; shifter-stop machining; and scudding. The polygon turning unit for castle-teeth machining on automotive gearbox parts uses a rotating cutterhead, synchronized with the workplace spindle. The system produces a front face coupling with a carbide insert arrangement and a transmission ratio. Adding inserts to the cutter head allows part deburring. The pointing tower can be used in rotative and indexing modes.
Scudding can support many symmetrical gear applications as well as non-symmetrical gear or profile applications such as belt pulleys and synchronizing gears. The S-type machine, with a single vertical spindle for gear cutting, features a dry machining process.
German Machine Tools of America (GMTA) http://www.gmtamerica.com
EconoMaster drilling units are suitable for hole making in light metals, composites, and foam. The drills feature low power and air consumption, adjustable motor housings, adjustable total stroke up to 4", hydraulic feed control cylinder, J33 taper spindle end, electric front/rear position limit switches, belt tensioner, and chrome-plated quill. Basic unit weight is 45 lb. Stroke feed is adjustable from 0.5" to 3.0".
Suhner Industrial Products Co. https://www.suhner.com
Autonomous mobile robot
The LD-250 autonomous mobile robot carries up to 250kg payloads and has a sturdy structure optimized for transmission blocks, automotive seats, and heavy, bulky packaging materials.
Fleet Manager software can control up to 100 mobile robots with different payloads through a single system; managing traffic, battery charging requirements, and vehicle navigation.
The LD-250 is customizable with special conveyor tops, courier systems, and adaptive material handling mechanics.
Omron Automation Americas https://automation.omron.com
OM70 laser distance sensors provide reliable, precise inline measurements on challenging and inconsistent structured surfaces and materials. They include connectivity options and easy sensor adjustment via a web interface. Beam shapes as small as 0.05mm x 0.05mm optimize the sensor’s receiving array and minimize measuring errors caused by irregularities such as machining marks.
The OM70 offers its highest precision at close range with a sweet spot up to 250mm. A second option is available, ensuring reproducible distance measurements up to 1,500mm.
Baumer Ltd. https://www.baumer.com
More than 30 pressed-geometry carbide inserts feature updated designs, grades, and geometries. Enhancements include:
- Improved chip control, optimized chip breakers; bores gummy materials such as low-carbon or stainless steel
- Improved coatings, higher speed, better wear resistance
- More positive cutting geometries; reduced cutting forces, chatter, vibration in deep-hole boring
- Longer tool life
Big Kaiser Precision Tooling Inc. https://www.bigkaiser.com