Sergio Bautista
Robotics and Discrete Automation Director
ABB México
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B&R Digital Cells Improve Manufacturing Efficiency

By Alejandro Enríquez | Tue, 10/05/2021 - 09:00

Q: How is ABB introducing products to the Mexican market from its recent acquisitions?

A: We are starting to distribute B&R products in Mexico through our integrators and OEM partners. We are also integrating a robotic element to B&R’s products to generate a complete cell that includes welding and gripping. We are now testing the digital layers of the robotic cells, which will allow us to take the next step from just connected robots to a fully digitalized cell. Our system will identify and integrate all communication protocols from equipment of any brand and create a digital layer in the cloud that will allow companies to better monitor product quality, efficiency and other key elements in the cell. Before the end of the year, we will provide a B&R demo virtual cell to the market.

We recently purchased ASTI Robotics, which manufacturers mobile robots, to complement ABB’s portfolio.

Q: To what extend do B&R models complement other solutions such as digital twins?

A: The human-machine interface (HMI) of the B&R model can be connected to the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to create a digital twin that displays robotic operations, manufacturing processes and other related processes or key indicators, such as welding or air pressure. While the digital twin provides a more user-friendly display of the cell, the R&B model allows the company to monitor the manufacturing cell in real-time through complementing IIoT features. In some cases, we build cells based on digital twins.

Q: How is ABB incorporating machine learning and AI into its technologies?

A: Data analysis capabilities have increased considerably, particularly regarding monitoring and image recognition applications. It is hard to tell where the line is drawn between big data analysis of real-time manufacturing data, which is what is happening, and AI applications. Image recognition, for instance, can be incorporated through a robot that is able to identify from a basket of pieces which belong to which processes. This can be done through a basic AI system but also through heavy data analysis. The line between the two is blurry.

Other technologies, such as the cloud, also open the door to interesting solutions. For example, connected robots upload their information to the cloud, including that of equipment malfunctions. If a robot suffers a failure or incident that occurred previously to a different robot, the system can replicate the solution that was used in the first malfunctioning robot or learn from itself to better prevent future risks.

Q: How does ABB support the automotive industry in its sustainability goals?

A: The automotive industry is changing its standards to address the needs of EVs, which require lighter materials, more aluminum pieces and less steel. Sustainability, EVs and lighter materials are leading manufacturers to implement new processes. Battery manufacturing for EVs, for example, did not exist before and required new welding processes and tooling. Manufacturing a battery tray requires a combination of welding processes, laser welding and adhesive processes performed simultaneously. But these processes are usually performed in separate cells.

Robots are now required to perform the same processes with less electricity. At ABB, we are constantly trying to optimize the robot’s movements to reduce energy consumption. ABB supports the automotive industry’s sustainability goals, from vehicle and auto parts production processes to energy-efficient-robots. Efficiency is part of ABB’s DNA.

Q: How has demand for EV manufacturing solutions and other systems for more efficient operations evolved?

A: There is demand for solutions to manufacture EVs but, overall, the Mexican market is not booming yet. EV production volumes remain small and some lines are around 25,000 or 30,000 vehicles a year, which is 30 percent of a regular ICE vehicle line. When it comes to EVs, the Mexican market remains a greenfield. Demand for EVs has not increased consistently due to their high cost. If an EV is not below MXN$700,000-MX$600,000 (US$35,000-US$30,000) consumers see it as luxury vehicle, although it is not.

What has increased is demand for lighter materials because auto parts manufacturers are looking for more efficient manufacturing processes. In some cases, carmakers realize that a more efficient manufacturing cell could clear room for other projects. We do see better utilization of the robots, not only for EV manufacturing but also in regular manufacturing lines.

 

ABB is a Swiss-Swedish multinational corporation headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, and focused mainly on robotics, power, heavy electrical equipment and automation technology.

Alejandro Enríquez Alejandro Enríquez Journalist and Industry Analyst