Established in 1994, Wanfeng Auto Holding Group is headquartered in Shaoxing, China The Group has 12 subsidiaries around the world and its clients include BMW, Volkswagen, Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai and Yamaha. They produce aluminum alloy wheels for motorcycles and automobiles, and casting is a key part of their production process.
Harsh and hazardous environment unsafe for manual workers
ABB robots used in Zhejiang Wanfeng Technology Development for automatic casting works
The Wanfeng group produces over 25 million wheels a year, with more than 80 percent of the products being exported. A key part of the production process involves heating the aluminum to more than 700 degrees Celsius and pouring it into a mold. The heat is unbearable and it is very dangerous for the manual workers.
“In China casting work has always been done manually, but this work is highly risky because workers have to be close to hot liquid metal" says Jiang Yuhua, General Manager of Zhejiang Wanfeng Technology Development Co. Ltd. "Another headache is that manual work cannot guarantee the quality of the products, so we thought about using robots instead of workers to complete the job.”
Wu Jun, head of the Wanfeng Robot Engineering Center, was given the task to search for a automated manufacturing process. “If we could find a solution to the problem, we could not only remove workers from a harsh working environment, but also enormously improve production efficiency,” he said.
Robot solution selected for gravity casting work
After more than two years’ research led by Wu, an automated casting system was put into production. The system includes an ABB robot, which is equipped with a container in the shape of a huge scoop, together with four to eight moulds placed around it. The gravity casting system is placed beside the pot containing the liquid aluminum, and the robot then scoops out the liquid and pours it into the mold.
In a bid to precisely control the amount in each scoop, a sensor is installed on the robot which helps it collect the exact amount of molten aluminum to fill the mold. "This control is very important. If the amount is not controlled very well, the quality of the roughcast can be greatly affected. Therefore good control can both reduce waste and cut costs," said Wu Jun.
"On the safety front, now only a few workers are needed on the Group’s production lines, and those that are required are able to stay away from hot liquid and simply operate the robots,” added Wu.
Fifteen robot casting units increase output by up to 20%
"The robot we use most is the IRB 6640," said Jiang. According to Jiang, this technology has brought tremendous benefits to many casting enterprises. For example, with the help of the robots, yield has increased more than 10 percent, while output has risen by 10 to 20 percent.
Today more than 15 automatic casting units with ABB robots have been put to work and Zhejiang Wanfeng is now a major system integrator of ABB robots in China.
“We are now working on further improvements to the system to make it more cost and energy efficient. Our goal is to grab 45 percent of the domestic gravity casting market within three years,” added Jiang.
ABB (abb.com) is a leader in power and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve their performance while lowering environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies operates in around 100 countries and employs about 124,000 people.
About ABB Robotics
ABB Robotics (abb.com/robotics) is a leading supplier of industrial robots – also providing robot software, peripheral equipment, modular manufacturing cells and service for tasks such as welding, handling, assembly, painting and finishing, picking, packing, palletizing and machine tending. Key markets include automotive, plastics, metal fabrication, foundry, electronics, pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries. A strong customer focus helps manufacturers improve productivity, product quality and worker safety. ABB has installed more than 190,000 robots worldwide.