With Industry 4.0 and smart automotive factories, Mercedes-Benz AG is setting the course for the future. Networked systems and tools play a key role here. Thus, in the future, a new type of EC screw-fastening technology will be introduced to Mercedes-Benz Cars production.
Mercedes-Benz AG is driving forward the digitization and networking of its global automotive production environment. Here, networked production plant and tools make possible even greater flexibility and efficiency, with consistently high quality. “With the SoftTorque project we are making a huge contribution towards increasing the flexibility of assembly processes”, explains Wolfgang Kochs. He is the team leader in the Mercedes-Benz Cars TecFactory in Sindelfingen and the driving force behind the project. In summer 2018, he approached the Daimler IPS procurement team with Fatih Kodal and Christoph Zalder to select the appropriate suppliers and together introduce the new generation of EC screw-fastening Technology.
With SoftTorque to EC screw-fastening 4.0
In vehicle production, thousands of screws have to be fastened. In final assembly alone, there are varied demands: non-critical, quality-relevant and safety-relevant, for example on tires and sensors. Here, in particular, electronic screwdrivers, known as EC screwdrivers, are used. This type of screwdriver makes it possible to fasten screws at optimal speeds and defined torques. In addition, partially intelligent functions permit position and torque recognition. Only when all values are correct are the screw-fastened components of the vehicle released for further work – in this way guaranteeing the high, brand-typical quality and safety standards of every Mercedes-Benz model. A lot of reasons, therefore, to make EC screw-fastening systems fit for Industry 4.0!
Modern tools without cables and controllers
The main difference with smart screw-fastening processes is the cordless technology and the absence of fixed controller infrastructure. “With the SoftTorque project, we are turning EC screwdrivers into intelligent mobile devices that use both communication and location functions”, says Wolfgang Kochs, as he explains this technological step into the future.
" The previous controller level disappears completely with the new SoftTorque solution. Instead, we are developing intelligent screw-driving tools and systems,which manage the entire screw-fastening process irrespective of location and in a process-safe manner. "
Future-oriented development cooperation
First, a high-performance team was put together at Daimler which was then joined by Atlas Copco, an external partner with specialist knowledge. The international supplier of industrial productivity solutions convinced the specialist department and Procurement with its experience in the field, as it was able to bring existing development modules to the SoftTorque project. EC screwdrivers from Atlas Copco also stand out thanks to their excellent ergonomics and low weight. The objective of the new cooperation was not just to develop EC screw-fastening technology 4.0, but also to bring about a cooperation that would offer a win-win to all those involved. To this end, Wolfgang Kochs, the buyer Fatih Kodal and Christoph Zalder, process owner Bernd Schneeweis and the legal departments of Daimler and Atlas Copco have been developing the individual product partnership agreement since the start of 2019.
" The SoftTorque development cooperation is a quantum leap. The fact that this new EC screw-fastening technology will not only be used at Mercedes-Benz Cars, but will also be rolled out by the supplier throughout the industry means that all users will profit from the scale effects. "
Smart screwdrivers for MBC and the industry
The product partnership agreement offers all development partners optimal prospects in the long term. Moreover, Atlas Copco can also offer the tools developed with Daimler to all its other customers. For the supplier, this means additional market opportunities and for Daimler an amortization effect on the development costs.
" We are delighted that we, as strategic development partner alongside Mercedes-Benz AG, were able to develop a new generation of intelligent EC screw-fastening system including software platform (Assembly Management System), to test it in a real factory environment and to be able to market the innovative solution globally without restriction. "
A fresh twist for processes – and innovative partners
The new cordless EC screwdrivers are lighter and more ergonomic, making handling easier and faster. The physical connection of a tool to an assembly station is eliminated; tools can be used totally flexibly thanks to SoftTorque. Different vehicle models can thus be produced on one manufacturing line. New communication and location functions permit complete process documentation with verifiable work steps. “SoftTorque is thus a trailblazer for smart vehicle production at Mercedes-Benz Cars”, says the process owner Bernd Schneeweis, to which buyer Christoph Zalder adds: “We will be launching numerous projects around Industry 4.0. This is opening up the opportunity for new external partners to develop innovative solutions together with Mercedes-Benz Cars and thus to make their own product portfolio more future-proof.
Note: This articles was originally published on December 18, 2019 on the previous Daimler Supplier Magazine Online platform.