With Volvo’s decision to go all electric in its future vehicles, combined with the French government’s decision to ban sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 and similar moves in Germany, the automotive industry is preparing for a tectonic shift in the manufacturing landscape.
The way electric cars are made already differ considerably now, and new techniques will take the production of the new vehicles further away from traditional methods.
An interesting insight into the future was offered by a senior executive at the world’s largest industrial robot manufacturer, who suggested that electric cars are highly likely to fundamentally change the way industrial robots are used.
Spot welding is one of the most important applications of industrial robots, used to join together the main parts of a vehicle together to produce what’s called a body in white – or the shell of the car.
Neil Dueweke, general manager, automotive new domestic and automotive components group, Fanuc America, told Robotics and Automation News: “We’ve seen tremendous change already.
“Most conventional vehicles have been put together in a body shop using all metal components, hundreds of metal components, typically put together using spot welding – over 4,000 spot welds making up what’s called a body in white.
“We are working with one electric car maker today, and their body shop has zero spot welding.
“It is a combination of glueing, what they call flow drill screwing, it’s riveting, it’s clinching… it’s like everything but the most predominant joining technology that is used across all of the automotive industry – namely, spot welding.
“So here’s one electric car manufacturer already deciding to go away – 100 per cent – from the number-one joining technology that’s been used for the last 80 years.
“I think that’s phenomenal.”
Fanuc is a close partner of General Motors, supplying almost all of the automaking giant’s robotics and automation technology.
GM recently rolled off what it says is the first electric and autonomous car – the Chevrolet Bolt EV – made using mass manufacturing techniques.
While GM itself did not necessarily use the joining methods Dueweke highlighted, it’s very likely that at least some diversity of techniques will emerge in the area of auto manufacturing, because of electric and autonomous cars.
For one thing, electric and autonomous cars will contain far more sensors, microchips and all sorts of electronics than current cars do.
This means smaller, more nimble robots, which may be more capable of working in smaller spaces for the installation of the computer and electronics technologies, may be seen more often in the typical automotive factory.