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CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 8191

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CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology

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Automotive assembly technologies review: challenges and outlook for a exible and adaptive approach
G. Michalos, S. Makris, N. Papakostas, D. Mourtzis, G. Chryssolouris *
Laboratory for Manufacturing Systems and Automation, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics, University of Patras, Patras 265 00, Greece



Article history: Available online 6 January 2010 Keywords: Automotive assembly Flexibility Adaptability Assembly technologies

In this paper, emerging technologies in the automotive assembly are discussed, along with techniques used in the vehicle assembly plants. The discussion involves technologies directly dealing with assembly processes such as handling, joining, human resources etc. as well as with supporting systems, mainly the information technologies. An overview of the existing technologies is provided. The assembly systems are unable to cope with the requirements of mass customization and need to be enriched with new technologies for a higher exibility potential. Concepts integrating various new technologies into supporting both automated and human based assembly operations are presented and discussed versus this identied inability for mass customization. Future assembly plants need to utilize exibility systematically, both for the system design and its operation. For this purpose, a close loop approach is discussed. 2009 CIRP.

Contents 1. 2. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Assembly industrial practice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1. Assembly equipment in automotive . . . . . 2.1.1. Material handling . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1.2. Positioning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1.3. Joining . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.1.4. Information and control systems 2.2. Workforce in assembly systems. . . . . . . . . Academic perspective . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.1. Assembly system design and operation. . . Conclusions and outlook . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81 82 82 82 83 83 84 85 85 86 88 89 89 89

3. 4. 5.

1. Introduction Technological advancements, new competitors, global sourcing and industry restructuring result in great challenges for the automotive industry. The transition of the automotive industry from mass production to mass customization is based on the need for more customized vehicles to be produced, providing many

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +30 2610 997262; fax: +30 2610 997744. E-mail address: (G. Chryssolouris). 1755-5817/$ see front matter 2009 CIRP. doi:10.1016/j.cirpj.2009.12.001

variants, with the use of fewer resources and materials, in the shortest time possible [1]. The capability of offering more variants per model, and introducing new models faster, is constrained by the current technologies and the equipment of mass production operations, which are incapable of supporting product variability [2,3]. Increased complexity in the automotive assembly, requires a holistic perspective of the main manufacturing attributes that need to be considered when manufacturing decisions, as regards cost, time, quality and exibility, are taken [4]. The vehicle itself as a product, is also characterized by high complexity, and different approaches, such as modularity, have emerged so as to allow OEMs


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to simplify the management of the product [3,512]. In order for the assembly system to handle this complexity efciently, the joint evolution of product families and assembly systems over product generations is currently being promoted [13]. In Section 2, the current status in the automotive industry, is discussed along with a presentation of the technologies of the greatest potential, in terms of time, cost, quality and exibility. The academic perspective on upcoming technologies, over a range of applications, from the design to the operation of the assembly system, is given in Section 3. Next, a discussion on the promising technologies is presented in Section 4 and in the last section, the ndings are summarized and the future trends are highlighted. 2. Assembly industrial practice In the automotive industry, the typical structure of an assembly plant involves four stages: stamping, body shop, paint and nal assembly (FA). The majority of assembly operations take place in the body shop and FA. High levels of automation are typically introduced during the assembly of the body in white (BIW), while hybrid human/machine systems are found at the FA stage. In general, four approaches could be distinguished in the design of an assembly system: (1) manual assembly, (2) exible assembly, (3) semi-automated assembly and (4) xed assembly. These assembly principles and the respective assembly system performances, in terms of production volumes, number of variants, batch sizes and exibility, are presented in Fig. 1. In the automotive assembly, typically different vehicles are assembled with the use of the same assembly line (mixed model assembly line/MMAL). MMALs are characterized by their ability to assemble different models of a given product, without holding large inventories [14]. One of the main challenges that modern assembly systems are faced with, is the cost-driven demand for faster and more secure ramp-up processes. This goal is however underpinned by the constantly rising number of ramp-ups, due to enhanced innovations and increasing market launches of new products and product variants. The current trend followed by the r [15], is the adoption of automotive OEMs, as highlighted by Ba product, equipment and process standardization. In this context, the implementation of adaptable characteristics to the assembly system ramp-up so that it is possible to achieve market orientation by means of suitable ramp-up strategies, is being sought. The necessary requirements for this, involve right speed, secure launch, adequate stability, good landing and correct assimilation and estimation of boundary conditions [16]. As a step towards this direction, the concept of mechatronicoriented production planning is being investigated, taking as an example the body shop in the automotive industry. The foundation of this mechatronic-oriented planning process chain is the early, integrative consideration of not only mechanical but also electrical and information technical resource data [17]. On the other hand,

the risk and chances in the nal assembly planning, due to product variety and complexity, are reported by Weyand and Bley [18]. Product and process allocation is time-consuming and error-prone, due to the manual activities and the focus on single parts as well as the missing transparency in the digital environment. In assembly line balancing, separate product congurations are responsible for the drifting in single stations. The integration of sustainability dimensions (such as economy, ecology and society) is currently promoted through new paradigms in the so called holistic production systems [19]. 2.1. Assembly equipment in automotive The equipment used in the automotive assembly systems has to meet the requirements related to the parts weight and dimensions but also to the high production rates and high precision. 2.1.1. Material handling The costs associated with delivering raw materials, moving work in process and removing nished goods, need to be minimized along with any material damage resulting from improper handling. Internal logistics and space constraints are identied among the most important constraints of exibility. At present, the automotive industry and its supply chains are main users of robotic systems, due to their ability to accomplish tasks (assembly, inspection etc.) of improved quality and repeatability. Minimizing the changeover time among the models is the OEMs primary objective [20]. Two recent examples of a robots contribution to the increase inexibility are the utilization of a new robot cell, called mobicell from BMW, and the utilization of redundant robots from PSA. Based on the mobicell concept, the robot cell can be moved from one plant to another and be put into production, in a new location, within 23 days [21]. In the PSAs concept, redundant robots are responsible for nalizing tasks that had not been satisfactorily completed in the precious stages or for taking over tasks from the mainline robots, which are experiencing problems [22]. Flexibility in todays robotic applications is achieved through the automatic changes of end effectors and robot programs. However, this approach results in long passive times and in a great degree of complexity. The challenge for the equipment suppliers is to achieve the minimization of changeover and passive time through fast and lean systems. Current approaches in the robot design, call for reduction in robots, in robot peripheral wiring, and in associated costs, by means of establishing a single data communication network connection among robots, welders, and safety networks [23]. Cooperating robots is another concept promoting the use of robots, which are communicating with each other in order to carry out a common task. This approach, favors the reduction in the number of xtures and in the process cycle time, while at the same time, it deals with accessibility constraints introduced by the use of xtures [24]. An example of cooperative assembly motion is shown in the 3D simulation model, in Fig. 2. Two of the robots (in the middle and on the right of the gure) are picking up and holding the parts to be welded while the third one (on the left) performs the spot welding. Non-robotic handling issues are also discussed as a solution to incorporating standardized pieces of equipment for both tooling and part handling. The major advantage lies in their ability to introduce new models on a line with minimum impact on running production. Modularity (both in product design and in production lines) is also a factor that needs to be considered since it reects the latest trend for simplifying and managing products under high customizability requirements [25]. Automated product transportation solutions, such as skid conveyors and automated electried

Fig. 1. Performance characteristics of assembly systems following different assembly principles (as reproduced in [105]).

G. Michalos et al. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 8191


Fig. 2. Cooperating robots performing spot welding on automotive parts.

monorails are being used due to their accessibility advantages, however, it is very difcult to introduce the possibility of branching or diverting the path of the tracks. Material handling in environments, accommodating both human operators and automation, is addressed by solutions promoting the humanmachine interaction and the intelligent humanrobot cooperation. Especially in cases involving heavy and bulk components, such as dashboards, cockpit modules, engine blocks, strut assemblies or air tanks (in the case of truck assembly), new solutions are now replacing the traditional hoists [26,27]. Such components require both precise handling and secondary assembly operations, such as inserting fasteners and connecting wire harnesses. Some of these tasks require the precision and speed of automation, while others benet from the dexterity and intelligence of human operators [28]. Towards this direction, the intelligent assist devices (IADs) are introduced by Colgate et al. [29] as computer controlled, servo-driven tools, which enable production workers to lift, move and position payloads quickly, accurately, and with ergonomic safety. In contrast to the awkward and slow conventional assist equipment, the IADs exploit the natural human ability to coordinate and control motion by preventing any product damage and the operators from having any cumulative trauma injuries. The multi-axis IADs can also be programmed to perform semi-autonomous functions (such as returning to home or loading position etc.) allowing the operator to focus on value-adding tasks, while the IAD takes over routine movements [28]. Material handling equipment also involves AGVs (automatic guided vehicle), driver-less transport systems, used for the horizontal movement of materials. The AGVs can travel along xed guide paths, or they can use free ranging techniques for exploiting the use of sensors as described by Iris [30]. The most important benets provided by the AGVs involve: effective inventory tracking and control, reduced material handling costs, increased material throughput capacity, continuous monitoring and direction as well as coordination of the vehicle operations [31]. 2.1.2. Positioning Fixtures, clamping devices and brackets are traditional solutions for placing the parts, under process, in the correct position. Fixtures align a component to a desired position and ensure that this position remain unaltered during the operation. Since the lead time for the design and manufacture of new xtures represents a great portion of the total cycle time and cost, there is being a continuous effort for the design of exible xtures or for their complete abandonment [32].

Sensorial capabilities are also required in an assembly cell for the observation of the environmentthe incoming parts and subcomponents, the feeding, storage and supervision of other equipment, as well as the control and supervision of the assembly process [33]. Tactile sensing, sensing with range nders and vision sensing are some useful sensing techniques (Mark [34]). The use of tactile sensors can be benecial as these sensors are not affected by the objects reections and the existence of shadows. Moreover, the measurement with tactile sensors is direct and independent of their position. On the other hand, tactile sensing has other limitations, such as to provide only local views, and to distort a sensory object. Robot vision is a technology continuously gaining ground in automotive applications. The vision systems are mostly used in order to implement robot adaptive control, where parts or subassemblies are measured and the results are fed back to the robots in order to compensate for any part mis-positioning variation and build tolerance variation [35]. Robotic vision systems with cameras or laser diodes are of a high cost and in general, have a high cycle time thus, making it hard to introduce them to assembly lines. 2.1.3. Joining Most processes in an assembly line involve the joining of two or more components in order to produce sub-assemblies [36]. As discussed by Barnes and Pashby [37] arc-welding techniques, such as metal inert gas (MIG), tungsten inert gas (TIG) and manual metal arc (MMA) have the immediate advantage of being known and proven technologies. These techniques are widely adopted as they only require one side access to the joint and can provide high joint strength and quality. Nevertheless, other joining techniques are currently being tested and are expected to be applied, in a large scale, to future assembly facilities. Magnetic pulse welding is a joining method exploiting the repulsion force, caused by the interaction of two magnetic poles, which propel the parts against each other. During this impact, sufcient pressure is generated to create a weld [38]. A major advantage is its ability to join different types of metals without causing heat distortions. For laser welding CO2, excimer and the Nd: YAG lasers are used. Advantages of laser welding when compared with conventional welding techniques include: little distortion of components, deep penetration welding, broader spectrum of weldable materials, ability to process any material and use in cutting applications with minimal changes [39]. A further development of laser welding leads to the introduction of remote laser welding (RLW), which uses large focal length optics, high-power laser sources and mirrors to translate the laser beam into a large 3D working volume at high speeds [40,41]. Remote welding requires only one side access to the part, allows the minimization of time between welds and it consequently, results in shorter cycle times. Adhesive bonding is mostly used in combination with resistance spot welding, whenever a sealed connection is required. High quality glues provide improved joining between different kinds of materials, at lower costs, and thus, tend to replace spot welding completely. The benets deriving from the use of adhesive bonding involve: minimal distortion of the components, improved joint stiffness of the bond, ability to damp noise and vibrations, good fatigue resistance thanks to reduced stress concentrations, possibility to join dissimilar materials and no direct contact between parts [37,42]. The riveting technology is also enhanced by the introduction of self-drilling and self-piercing rivets. The EJOT self-drilling rivets [43] combine the benets of single-sided access with an ability to produce their own hole by incorporating a drilling or forming head into the rivets design. The EJOTs have the advantage of producing little or no swarf, thus, minimizing the risk of swarf entrapment,


G. Michalos et al. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 8191 Welding surface Flexibility Consumables Extra-equipment Environmentally friendly process Cost Sealing properties Welding time\production rates Cutting applications Heat distortions

leading to damage elsewhere [37]. The EJOTs are particularly valuable in the event of any repairs required [44]. Self-piercing rivets (SPRs) are capable of both piercing and forming a permanent fastening. The setting forces required for the process are quite large and for this reason, the process needs to have access to both sides of the joint (use of c-frames). Among the advantages of the SPRs is their ability to join dissimilar and galvanized or pre-painted materials without damaging the coating, to weld aluminum or high strength steel with consistent quality, the possibility to visually check the joints, to be an environmentally friendly process and to allow possibly manual application [37]. The self-piercing technology offers a viable alternative to spot welding in automotive assembly due to the fact that in combination with adhesives, it can provide leak proof joints, of high fatigue strength and a high degree of reliability [45]. Resistance spot welding on the other hand, is being also applied to aluminum vehicles [46] but the application is constrained by the short life of the electrode and the associated inconsistency in the weld quality. Nevertheless, current research proves that it is possible to extend electrode life to over 10,000 spot welds by periodically polishing it [47]. The friction stir welding uses rotating tools at high speeds, producing enough friction to plasticize the material around the tool and move it towards the rear of it [48,49]. Nevertheless, this process requires very rigid xtures so as to accurately position the parts and therefore, the cost of equipment is relatively high. Finally, new welding techniques, such as mill-knurling are currently being investigated as alternatives to laser welding with signicant costs, weight and size savings [50]. Table 1 provides a brief comparison of the aforementioned joining technologies. The challenges of mass customization, exibility and quality are reected in the current research trends on joining technologies. These involve: the development of highly recongurable, selfadaptive processes with on-line quality control, dynamic generation of welding parameters and process monitoring tools that can ensure dynamic compensation of process drifts, and automated quality inspection over the whole production volume. Advanced vision systems for ensuring process accuracy can eventually lead to higher process efciency (reduced cycle time, reduced defects) as well as to better material usage and reduction in product weight, e.g. by reducing the ange size, required for the welding operations. 2.1.4. Information and control systems At operating level, the IT systems support different tasks, such as material and workow planning, order control and monitoring, process optimization modeling, shop oor documentation, quality management, maintenance management, vehicle identication, and others. The strategy to plan anywhere, build anywhere requires technologies and methodologies, which allow manufacturers to efciently author, simulate and manage manufacturing information throughout their organization and with each other [51]. Makris et al. [52] propose a methodology for dynamically inquiring supply chain partners to provide real time or near real time information regarding the availability of parts, required for the production of highly customizable products. Internet based communication and real time information from RFID sensors are among the main enablers of the methodology. The traceability of products and components within running assembly lines, utilizing the built in information and communication technology (ICT) capabilities of assembly equipment was examined by Dransfeld et al. [53]. Specically, in autonomous systems, the installation of IT systems is considered mandatory in order for the desired changeability to be achieved. Inside an assembly plant, exchanging information is further promoted by wireless communication technologies, such as RFID, GSM and 802.11. However, further development has to be made in order for any arising problems,

No Yes Yes No Yes No No No No No No B: both; A: auto. 1: very good; 2: good; 3: poor. S: spot burns; D: deformations; P: projections; F: at projections; N: no change. Spot welding Arc welding Laser beam welding Magnetic pulse Welding Remote laser welding Adhesive bonding Self-drilling rivets Self-piercing rivets (SPRs) Friction stir welding Clinching Brazing B B A A A A B B A A B 2 1 1 2 1 1 1 2 1 2 1 Most metals Most metals Most materials Metals Most materials Most materials Metals and plastics Metals and plastics Most materials Most metals Most metals Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No No No No Yes

Table 1 Comparison of assembly technologies [39,49,90,106115].

Manual/ automated

Access (1 or 2 side)

Weldable materials

12 s/weld Up to 4 m/min Up to 10 m/min 210 s/weld 110 m/min Variable 12 s/rivet Up to 10 s/rivet Up to 1 m/min Up to 10 s/weld Up to 1.6 m/min

2 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 1 1 1

1 2 3 3 3 2 2 2 1 1 3

3 3 2 1 2 3 2 2 1 2 3

No Yes Yes No No Yes No No No No Yes

Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes

Med. High High Med. High Med. Med. Med. Med. Med. High


G. Michalos et al. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 8191


such as interference and security to be dealt with. The goal, at plant level, to be supported by the information technologies involves a common integrated architecture for information sharing that will improve response time [54]. This growing demand for system integration and the increasing complexity of automation solutions are the main drivers for the development of innovative information and communication technologies [55]. In its turn, the development of automation solutions is heavily affected by the rapid developments in the electronic and information technology for the automation of manufacturing processes. A typical example is the introduction of agent-based technologies. The agent technology is promising for industrial application, as it is based upon distributed architecture [54]. However, the practical application of software agents is constrained by issues, such as synchronization, interfacing, and data consistency among the agents. Apart from monitoring and control applications, the shop oor IT systems can also be used for providing performance analysis and improvement of plants. CAD tools have been extensively used in product development departments, over the last years, in order to speed-up the development process and to eliminate the need for early physical prototypes [56]. However, large-scale engineering design optimization (EDO) requires more computational power and efcient optimization algorithms. Emergent computing techniques, such as swarm intelligence, grid and quantum computing are expected to enhance the optimization speed and efciency [57]. The digital factory comprises digital planning [58] and optimization of the real-life plant as well as of its production processes, on the basis of an integrated data model and geometrybased planning [59]. Big automotive companies, such as Daimler have adopted the principles of a digital factory as it can guarantee stability, economic efciency and high maturity of product and process at an early stage of development [60]. The digital simulation and the planning of assembly processes are based on various enabling technologies such as: immersive virtual reality [61,62], collaborative virtual design [33] and digital human simulation for the manual assembly system and ergonomic assessments [61,63,64]. Virtual assembly environments for the assessment of process and human factors in assembly, aim at supporting process experimentation and verication concerning factors, which cannot be described analytically, and therefore, do not affect the process in a pre-determined way [65,66]. Fig. 3, provides an example of how human assembly operations are modeled realistically within the latest simulation packages. In this gure, the human manikin performs the assembly of a trucks cabin interiors. The assembly verication has several goals, of which the nal one is the assertion that later on, a part or component can be assembled

and disassembled, for service and maintenance purposes by a human performer. However, simulation of assembly processes requires advanced interaction and increased realism in order to be considered useful and practicable for industrial use [67]. The introduction of powerful 3D virtual simulation tools allows engineers to design, synchronize, and validate production lines, robotic work cells, production equipment, and control systems prior to the purchase, installation, and commissioning of a single piece of physical equipment. Discrete event simulation (DES), in the early stages, may help the decision making on evaluating and improving several aspects of the assembly process such as: location and size of inventory buffers, evaluation of a change in product volume or mix, throughput analysis etc. [68]. Today manufacturing research and development is experimentally oriented. The vision for the future, includes the use of process models and simulation tools to optimize assembly in the early phases, while clearing all process phenomena and correlations of inuencing factors and output characteristics, based on the deep scientic process knowledge [69]. Integration of product lifecycle management (PLM) systems with CAD, design for assembly (DFA) and computer aided manufacturability analysis [70] methodologies is under investigation in order to couple the product architecture with the assembly process specications. The benet will be the facilitation of information exchange among the departments and a right rst time approach to product design in a real time process [71]. The trend for automotive OEMs is the pursuit of dynamic line balancing and dynamic evaluation of alternative congurations of a plants operation so that the optimal can be selected. 2.2. Workforce in assembly systems Human operators in general, are considered as major exibility enablers, since they are capable of quickly adapting to changing products and market situations [72]. The combination of automated and manual work cycles composes the hybrid assembly systems, which have a considerable rationalization potential for meeting customer oriented production requirements [7274]. Job rotation is a technique based on the concept that assembly operators are trained to perform more than one task in different workplaces [75]. Introduction to job rotation is seen as an answer to the problem concerning monotonous repetitive work, which has been identied as a major cause of work load related disorders (repetitive strain injuries) in the work force, causing absenteeism and replacements. The multi-skilled workers ability to work in a number of different workstations and to perform several assembly tasks is also a way of their handling the increasing demand for larger product variability. Nevertheless, the systems performance, as a whole, is affected by the workers ability to remember and perform different assembly operations. The physical strength of the workforce is another factor responsible for any production disturbances and results in increased costs for replacements and losses. Job rotation is a viable solution to the above; however, there is a lack for information systems that could support the quantitative evaluation of alternative rotation schedules. 3. Academic perspective Flexibility as a metric of the systems behavior can be expressed in many forms, depending on the systems desired characteristics. Several types of exibility have been proposed so far including: product, operation, process, volume, expansion and labor exibility. Moreover, exibility can be classied as external or internal [76]. Attempts to measure exibility have been made by Alexopoulos et al. [77] using statistical analysis of the Discounted Cash Flow estimates of the manufacturing systems lifecycle cost,

Fig. 3. Human simulation in automotive assembly processes.


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for a large variety of market to determine the systems exibility. Chryssolouris and Lee [78] have concluded that, exibility is determined by the manufacturing systems sensitivity to change: the lower the sensitivity, the higher the exibility. An alternative approach is based on the analogy of the dynamic behavior, between a simple mechanical system and a manufacturing one. The exibility of investment decisions, expressed as the option value, was proven to overcome the deciencies of the net present value (NPV) by having included both the uncertainty inherent in the project and the active decision making, subject to the information available that allows evaluating exibility, based on a decision tree analysis [79]. Current research activities are focused on the investigation of the relations among exibility and other manufacturing attributes such as cost, time and quality. In the investigation of the effect of exibility on market adaptation it is concluded that establishing and maintaining the exibility of a production system at a satisfactory level, leads to the achievement of sufcient market adaptation, especially when dealing with uctuating demands [80]. Different production system types, providing this exibility, have emerged. The recongurable assembly system (RAS) for instance, is an integrated, computer-controlled system of assembly robots, automated guided vehicles, and buffers that can be used for assembling a variety of similar product types [81]. This system is characterized by its ability to add/remove assembly devices by the Plug and Produce architecture [82] while at the control level, it shows its abilities for intelligence and autonomy. An assembly system is called autonomous if it is able to cope with all uncertainties, in the real-world execution (control and sensing) of an assembly task, which was planned off-line, and with the (re)planning itself [83]. An actor-based assembly system (ABAS) is a collaborative electronics assembly automation architecture, which denes a set of intelligent devices/modules that map their functionality to basic assembly activities, named assembly operations [84]. Material handling research is conducted towards more exible solutions in order for traditional part dedicated solutions to be abandoned. Fixtureless assembly [85] does not necessarily mean elimination of xtures in general, but it is a strategy through which processes and product design, work together in order to minimize the need for non-value-adding dedicated devices. Recongurable grippers, for implementation of robot based exible xtureless assembly are being designed and developed over the last years [86 89]. Shribman [90] also discussed the modular and recongurable xtures, which are formed by separate elements or modules. Coordinate controlled xturing relies on a metrology system of controlling the positioning of either a xture or the workpiece itself during the xtures build-up. The ART (affordable recongurable tooling) concept technology enables solutions for coordinate controlled xturing by means of exible supports, the so called exapods, which can be adapted to both large and small changes of the workpiece. The main advantage of these technologies involves on-line easy and accurate xture conguration at a low cost. Finally, perhaps the most novel exible xturing technology is that of the phase-change xtures, based on the two-phase nature of materials that undergo a phase change between the liquid and solid states. It is obvious that accuracy is seriously affected by xturing technologies. In order for process quality to be ensured, several approaches are being tested. Volkswagen uses a locally exible, robot based measuring system, which is based on a standard industrial robot, mounted on a locally exible platform and is able to support the quality control cycle in the production of bodyshells [91]. The uncertainty sources of coordinate metrology, inherent in computational stages, including measurement planning and minimum deviation zone evaluation processes, have been thoroughly examined by Barari [92].

As far as the human factor is concerned, different concepts of hybrid workplaces are presented and evaluated against the criteria of investment costs and conguration effort Consiglio et al. [13]. To further increase the ability of operators to handle a larger number of product variants, information systems supporting mental tasks (e.g. information systems for on-line instructions) are under investigation [93]. The integration of automated parts and the operator detection (using RFID etc.) in conjunction with the use of portable/wearable devices able to provide the operators with the right amount and type of information, are expected to boost exibility and efciency. The main problem that needs to be addressed in the cases of manual assembly, relates to the uneven distribution of workloads leading to line balancing problems. The challenge will be to come up with solutions, such as dynamic job rotation, accounting for both task and operator characteristics, capable of allocating the operators in an efcient way. Fatigue, strength, experience, knowledge and probability errors need to be combined into tools that can handle multiple criteria decision making problems. This type of systems, along with ones providing the right type of information [94], such as assembly instructions, videos and CAD data, at the right place and at the right time, will allow the operators to rotate continuously and perform any assembly task, even if they are not familiar with it. The emerging benets are obvious, considering the fact that even in the simple situation of replacing xed workers with moving operators the systems increase in the output is expected to be about 6% [95]. In Fig. 4, the integration of the aforementioned concepts under a common framework, is presented. The dynamic job rotation concept is used to generating the working schedule for each operator over a working period. The notation OxTask y,z, within the Gantt chart, denotes the task that belongs to order x and is carried out in the z workplace of workstation y. This schedule is transmitted into the operators mobile device and noties him of the workplace he should move to. When the operator enters the workplace the RFID interrogators identify the mobile device as well as the vehicle that is currently inside the station. Following, the assembly instructions related to the specic vehicle are automatically downloaded to the operators handheld device. Once the operator has nished performing the task, he moves to the next workplace according to his schedule and the process is repeated. Other functions of the system, such as providing feedback to the design engineers, are also presented in the gure. 4. Discussion The traditional assembly systems have marginally succeeded in meeting the requirements of the automotive market, in terms of mass customization, quality and cost. Although the introduction of vehicle platforms provides the ability to assemble more models in the same assembly line, there is still a lot of room for improvement with reference to mass customization. A platform provides a common base for the assembling of a great number of vehicle variations, involving completely different models (e.g. Audi TT and Volkswagen Golf) and different model versions (i.e. 3 door, 5 door, coupe, sedan). Each version can be further customized with the addition or removal of optional components (e.g. navigation system, heated seats and so on). As a result, the different factory departments are required to be exible enough to handle this product variety. Examples of the different variants and the respective departments handling each one of them are shown in Fig. 5. However, it has to be noted that the greatest number of variants and thus, the extent of personalization, is carried out in the fourth level, namely the nal assembly stage, where human workforce is mainly utilized. In addition, the cost, induced when changes in physical ows occur with the current systems, may be quite high and therefore,

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Fig. 4. Integrated system to support human based assembly operations.

more exible automation is required [96]. Dedicated xturing has been effectively used for high production volumes but it seems unable to cope with the large product variety. Moreover, the xtures should be designed in such a way so as to assure repeatability and stability. This, in conjunction with the fact that the xtures constitute a signicant portion of the production cost pie, renders the need for xture optimization imperative. Fixtureless assembly on the other hand, is not considered as a viable solution nowadays, due to the increased cost requirements for vision systems, sensing techniques and controller capabilities. Furthermore, limitations on the cooperation, between vision systems and robots during tool positioning (identication time), make the alternative of having systems able to be selfprogrammed, and with as little data as possible, more preferable.

Fig. 5. Automotive variants derived from the same vehicle platform.

As far as the joining processes are concerned, new technologies aiming at replacing the widely used arc and spot laser welding are not yet proven, in terms of robustness and maintainability. For spot welding applications, there is a need for drastic reduction in the time and cost for the setup of welding parameters, which is being addressed by the development of tools for the dynamic generation of welding parameters. In magnetic pulse welding [97], at least one of the parts to be welded (specically the moving part) has to be made of materials that are good conductors of electricity thus, constraining the use of composites materials, which would allow for lighter vehicles. These materials however, seem to be continuously beneted, in terms of environmental-friendliness, by the introduction of new production methods and this makes them even more appealing to the automotive industry [98]. On the other hand, although the remote laser welding is very promising, it requires highly recongurable xtures in order to achieve full exibility and this can be translated into signicant increases in the overall cost. In adhesive bonding, although the cost for the process is considered low, process automation requires the use of systems to ensure consistent application and therefore, extraequipment has to be installed. The need for part pre-treatment, specialized xturing to support joints during adhesive curing, application of new safety measures and environmental limitations, for the time being, make the cost for large scale application prohibitive. Emerging R&D topics that will attract the interest of the automotive industry involve: cold arc welding, invisible welds, rubber based, environmentally friendly structural adhesives and


G. Michalos et al. / CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology 2 (2010) 8191

Fig. 6. Nomogram for the selection of line operating parameters.

joining methods for mixed materials joining, e.g. aluminum to carbon steels [99]. Modularity is an appealing approach, which needs to be strongly supported by software systems. The modular product and assembly system design are key issues for modular concept implementation. In addition, the IT infrastructure and communication technologies are also needed. Fredriksson [100,101] supports that the efciency of a modular assembly system depends on the use of several coordination mechanisms, such as the use of plans, standardization and mutual adjustment between pre- and nal assembly activities. Human resources are considered amongst the most exible inside an assembly plant and especially, in the nal assembly stage. However, the number of variants handled, poses a certain cognitive workload on the operators. The worker either needs to memorize a large number of assembly operations or spend time reading instructions and consulting with production engineers. Both approaches though, seem ineffective in terms of time and exibility. Furthermore, even if assembly instructions are available, identication of the parts to be assembled from the inventory presents another difculty. In order for the human workers efciency to be maximized, solutions must be developed in the directions of a user friendly human machine, a human centered manufacturing and assembly design, material and information ow (RFID systems, wireless communications, on-line instructions), virtual assembly methods in production planning, effective job rotation and possibly exible working times. 4.1. Assembly system design and operation For the design of assembly systems, it is the operational steady state conditions that are mostly considered. Product mix and volumes, number of variants and cost, are the main design parameters. The combination of these parameters yields different design alternatives. However, quite often, it is difcult to decide which conguration is the optimum. Flexibility is in general a desired attribute; nevertheless, the introduction of more than four or ve models in a line, may increase the complexity and the cost to prohibitively high levels. Tools are required for the break-even analysis and the establishment of the golden ratio among the

critical parameters. For instance, as shown in Fig. 6 nomograms can be derived for each system showing how the operational cost and production volume are affected by different operating parameters of the system. In this context, and based on the companys objectives, areas of the nomogram where acceptable congurations lay can be identied and used for the selection of a satisfactory conguration. In industrial practice, the system design especially in terms of exibility is carried out iteratively. First, the system is designed and implemented and then its characteristics are evaluated and modication takes place. Instead, there should be a better approach for the designing of systems so that they meet the desired performance and exibility criteria from the very beginning [102]. Selection of equipment and control strategies are among the most important decision making problems. A close loop approach considering multiple criteria for the design problem, based on the principle design-evaluate-redesign seems more preferable for this purpose. It should be able to encapsulate all enabling technologies in order for the desired degree of exibility and productivity to be achieved. In Fig. 7, the status of current assembly systems is presented along with the technologies that can provide the required exibility and productivity to reach the ideal position on the exibility/productivity chart. The arrows next to each technology indicate how each solution can transpose the existing system on the graph by affecting its productivity and exibility. The ideal solution for achieving mass customization would be to develop highly exible multi-model assembly lines (MMAL) with the exibility of a workshop and the productivity of single model assembly lines (SMAL) as shown in the dashed circle. Tools to monitor and adapt the operation of a plant in order to meet the diversied demand, in a close loop mode, are necessary. The ability of the system to change its characteristics such as capacity, product mix/throughput and to introduce new products with minimum changes, at the shortest possible time, is what will allow the OEMs to remain competitive in future. In Fig. 8, the market demand is shown as an input to the manufacturing system control strategy, resulting in a certain behavior of the system that can be quantied by using performance and exibility evaluation techniques. The systems divergence from the desired behavior (in terms of capacity, exibility and so on) is used to generating alternative adaptation actions, capable of compensating for this divergence. However, each of the design criteria presumes the existence of quantication tools, able to introduce the criteria dimension in the decision making process. For instance, a generalized cost model for assembly processes that can be used as a tool to support decision making during both the design and operation of assembly systems, is presented by Michalos et al. [103]. The advantage of this model lies in its generality and simplicity, which allows for a quick estimation of cost implications, related to different alternative solutions to the design and operation problems that manufacturers are confronted with. Other design concepts, such as the use of the delayed product differentiation (DPD) design to enable greater product mix

Fig. 7. Trends and enabling technologies for future assembly systems.

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Fig. 8. Assembly plant operation close loop control.

exibility, also need to be considered. The main idea behind this concept is to postpone the stage in manufacturing where each of the products has its own manufacturing path [104]. 5. Conclusions and outlook The automotive assembly systems are subject to many technological transformations because of their need to adjust to a continuously changing market. Manufacturers, in their effort to remain competitive, seek new technologies and equipment, which will allow their companies to increase their responsiveness to demand uctuations and variability. Agile, modular and autonomous assembly systems are considered as the most suitable solutions. Every process in the assembly plant has to become more exible in order for the overall systems exibility to be increased. Therefore, new technologies are introduced to almost every section of the assembly plant. New applications have shown the potential benets of these technologies as well as the specications that future assembly plants will have to fulll in order to respond successfully and cost effectively to shifting market demands. These specications include:  Flexibility and adaptability assessment capabilities in order to account for them in the decision making process and further improve the plants responsiveness.  Flexible equipment, in most areas of the assembly facilities, including body build, paint shop and nal assembly.  Synergy-collaboration between humans and robots in order for the benets deriving from the human workers (decision making and intuition) to be combined with those from robots (speed, strength and accuracy).  Fully digital planning and validation of assembly processes prior to any physical installations.  Flexible and adaptable assembly technology and strategy, i.e. robotic xtureless assembly, self-recongurable assembly systems, increased modularity in the assembly process.  Implementation of advanced joining technologies offering improved quality, productivity and safety.  Absolute customization should be the focus of all plants, following a pull/customer driven model instead of a push/ OEM driven model.  Virtual manufacturing tools considering line balancing, but in a static way. There is a need for intelligent simulation tools to dynamically propose optimized mix and work distribution. Acknowledgments This work has been partially supported by the Integrated Project Flexible assembly Processes for the car of the third millennium - MyCar (FP6-2004-NMP-NI-4-026631), funded by the European Commission.

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