Most famous for its Shroud, the historical Italian city of Turin is also well known for its car industry, chocolate and football. Located in the north west of the country and boasting a Baroque city centre, Turin is often considered as the birthplace of Italy’s automotive industry. It is also the home of Comau an important member of the mighty Fiat Empire.
The Fiat Group has been active in the automotive sector for over 100 years and its core business is in the design, manufacture and sales of cars, trucks, tractors, agricultural and construction machinery, engines and automotive components and production systems. Today, the Fiat Group has automotive manufacturing and financial service companies located in 50 countries and are engaged in commercial customer activities with more than 190 worldwide. It employs over 185,000 people globally and has over 100 R&D centres housing nearly 13,000 highly trained specialists across the five continents.
The sector started in 1935, but it was only in 1978 that Comau joined the machine tool and production system activities developed by Fiat and other companies in the Turin area, under a single corporate umbrella. This acquisition has helped to make them one of the few global suppliers in the automobile automation industry capable of offering a complete service to the client.
The Comau Group is structured into four separate business units: Robotics & Service, Powertrain Machining & Assembly, Body Welding & Assembly and Injection Moulds & Dies. According to Roberto Menin, Laser and Arc Welding Technologies Director, Comau was funded by Fiat about 30 years ago to supply machinery and special manufacturing systems. “We have continued to grow from there and today we are unique. We have important competitors in every business line, but no one can boast a similar offering of products and services.”
This broad range of solutions in welding systems and body assembly, including manufacturing processes and mechanical assembly, has made Comau one of the leaders in the marketplace.
To demonstrate this leadership, Comau´s Robotics and Service Unit designs and builds anthropomorphic robots that move on 6 axes. Of these, 40% are made for Fiat with the rest sold to Italian and International clients in both automotive and general industrial sectors.
Currently the Comau line-up comprises 35 latest-generation industrial robot models, which can operate with payloads from 6 to 800 kg, with a reach from 1.4 to 3.8 metres. Typically the low-payload models are used in applications where agility and precision is required, with the medium-payload options for manipulation, assembly and machine tending applications. The high-payload robots are used in applications where there is need for sturdiness and reliability to manipulate big items or where there is need for heavy grippers/welding guns.
Comau also has specialist knowledge of robot systems in the application of remote laser welding of tri-dimensional metal sheets. In 2002 it patented its 6 axis robot AgilaserTM system which performed at production speeds that had never before been seen. Comau estimate that this system has enabled its customers to manufacture over 5 million automobile doors in factories across Europe each year.
Over the next few years this system evolved into Comau´s anthropomorphic robotic SmartLaserTM system. This uses 3D remote welding technology where a laser beam moves over the piece thanks to the extremely fast movement of special mirrors that deflect the laser to the correct welding location.
The SmartLaserTM´s optical correction system uses a multi-lens system that moves the laser beam by keeping a constant focus throughout the complete process to guarantee a consistent quality of welding stitches. In fact there are three lens systems that move in coordination among themselves. The acceleration and movement of the laser beam reaches 80 m/s2, which is extremely fast compared to the average robot acceleration of just 1.2 m/s2. The repositioning time of the welding laser beam is 30 times less than the repositioning time of a robot plus spot welding gun. The complete integration of a remote laser focalisation and repositioning module with a conventional standard Comau robot offers undeniable advantages in terms of cost efficiency and reliability. Above all in terms of flexibility and performance efficiency, the system undoubtedly provides unrivalled benefits when there are complex operations within confined space. In Roberto Menin´s opinion, “the SmartLaserTM system really comes into its own league when additional welding stitches on an auto body are required and especially when the piece is more complex.”
Although Comau regularly work with a number of complementary suppliers, the support received from SMC Italy with whom Comau Robotics have been working for many years, was particularly singled out by Applications Engineer, Giuseppe Orzi. “SMC are world leaders in pneumatics so we know that even when we buy their standard products we can guarantee the highest quality available in the market. Also their on-going R&D has helped us to improve our robotic systems – not only by reducing our costs by up to 30% - but also in footprint, weight and energy consumption”.
According to SMC, this kind of technical support is something that they offer to all their customers. In the case of Comau´s SmartLaserTM, they particularly focused their attention on the robot’s cooling system and consumption of compressed air. Orzi believes that SMC’s wide product portfolio dedicated to regulation, control and filtration of compressed air and its knowledge in these areas is fundamental when trying to find solutions. “In the case of the SmartLaserTM, when using resistance welding pincers - cooled through a constant water flow – most flow meters go crazy due to the extremely variable working conditions. However SMC’s PF2W, flow meter performs really well and its external display lets you know both visually and immediately if there is a problem.”
Today, Comau Robotics remains focused on product innovation thereby providing quality solutions and technology to give its customers a competitive edge. And as Roberto Menin says, “many of our solutions put us at the top of robotics technology and the knowledge we have accumulated during the development of the SmartLaserTM, including the support from suppliers such as SMC, is living proof of this commitment.”