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Keywords of this article:  automotive 
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HELLA Group is an internationally operating German automotive part supplier founded in 1908. It invented the first headlight for cars in the world and now has become global leading electronic components and systems for the automotive industry. In 1996, HELLA Group came to China and established two joint ventures in Shanghai and Changchun. Today, HELLA (Shanghai) Electronics Co., Ltd. (HSE) is an automotive electronics development and manufacturing center for HELLA in China, mainly engaged in manufacturing of body control modules, power control modules, driving assistance system, and a variety of actuators and sensors. The floor space of its plant is over 10,000m2.

HSE began to use robots to perform simple tasks like parts picking and placing since 2005. Since 2015, it has been increasing investment in robots, automation and information technology since 2015. So far, the company boasts a total of more than 200 robots.      

Robots compensate the shortage of workforce    

Automotive electronics is a labor-intensive industry and the standard for product quality is very high. Therefore, it has high demands for both the number and capability of the workers. However, the young generation are unwilling to take repetitive and monotonous jobs. The requirement for short cycle and high quality on automotive parts production lines has led to the continuous rise of labor cost and the loss of workers. 

“As labor cost grows, we are looking for some automatic measures to improve the work efficiency and reduce the number of our operators. Robotic solutions have successfully addressed our lack of workforce and enhanced our level of automation.” Fangya Zhao, Technical Service Director of HSE said, “For example, we used to have over 10 operators on our intelligent battery sensor production line. We soon found that YuMi could be directly and easily integrated into our existing production line and equipment. So we began to use YuMi to compensate the loss of technical workers.”

Recently, HSE established a fully-automated line for the production of remote car keys. On this line, 11 ABB robots are applied, including nine SCARA and two IRB 1200 robots, and there is not even a single direct operator. The cycle of the production line is 5.5 seconds, over 100% faster than the manual line. To achieve the same cycle, more than 30 workers are needed for manual production. 

Flexible production of high mix products       

The automotive electronics industry is faced with the trend of manufacturing more diversified and personalized products, which makes the manufacturing process more complex. Sometimes various products need to be made on a single production line. The need for flexibility is therefore increasing.        

On the intelligent battery sensor line in HSE’s factory, YuMi can take a photo of the parts and identify the models because its gripper is integrated with a camera. Now two models of sensor shells are produced on the line and they can be switched based on market demand at any time.    

YuMi works at the laser marking station of the line, including parts picking, placing, and laser marking, then finally conveying the product to the next station. “The YuMi robot has a very important feature. It provides the possibility of collaboration between man and machine, and it's safe and more efficient than conventional robots. Moreover, YuMi enables us to make it an open line and improves the flexibility to better meet the challenges of batch production of high mix products.” Zhao said. The cycle time of the YuMi station is 8.5 seconds, shorter than manual operation. It not enhances the productivity, but also ensures the flexibility.”

Upgrading to the factory of the future

In the next three years, HSE plans to double both the plant area and the sales to become one of the most automated and efficient automotive electronics manufacturers in China. ABB Robotics has been driving the realization of this goal as a key enabler.   

“The use of ABB robots has really made a difference in all aspects. They have greatly reduced the manual repetitive tasks and doubled our production efficiency.” Zhao said, “In addition, robots have made our production lines more streamlined and simplified the design of complex mechanical structures. They have also lowered the cost of the maintenance for the production line. The market launch of new products has become faster.”

Speaking of the future factory of automotive electronics, Zhao said it will be fully automated with less manual intervention. Humans will be mainly engaged in more complex technical work. Information and digital technology will be widely used, so that the production data can be transmitted in real time and the status of the production line can be monitored. Before the failure of the production equipment, problems can be spotted and diagnosed and the technicians can be reminded in a timely manner to avoid downtime.

In addition to the automation of production lines, the logistics in the factories of automotive electronics also needs to be automated. “It is our vision to upgrade all processes in our factory and achieve the seamless automation for the overall logistics system, from warehouse to production line, and from production line to warehouse.” Zhao concludes.

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