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Nemak Tracks the Production of Engine-Block Molds

At each workstation, the power-train components manufacturer writes sensor data to passive HF RFID tags, to record the results of each step of its automated assembly process.
By Claire Swedberg
May 21, 2013

When the molds used to manufacture aluminum engine blocks are built, visibility into the entire assembly process can help ensure that any defects are caught before the finished block is shipped to a customer. With that in mind, automotive components manufacturer Nemak has automated its work-in-process (WIP) tracking, with a radio frequency identification system supplied by Balluff Inc. that writes sensor data from automation equipment to ensure that any defects in the mold are caught before molten aluminum is poured into it.

Nemak makes aluminum power-train components, including cylinder heads, engine blocks and transmission parts. Traceability involves tracking every step of a mold-making process, using automated identification, at its plant in Windsor, Ontario.

Nemak's self-powered carriers transport engine-block molds along a 300-meter-long loop assembly line.

The company required a complex network of sensors, as well as RFID readers, for an assembly line on which it manufactures the molds that it needs to create aluminum engine blocks. Assembling the mold, which is composed of a mixture of sand and resin, is a highly precise process, the company reports. If anything goes wrong at any of the workstations along the 300-meter-long (984-foot-long) loop assembly line, it could affect the aluminum engine block's integrity. However, because the work is automated, a defective mold might not be caught, resulting in a flawed engine block that could then continue on to be installed within a vehicle.

The Balluff system, deployed in late November 2012, consists of what is called a BIS V processor, which comes with an RFID reader, as well as four ports to read and write RFID data and provide I/O link functionality, explains Mark Sippel, Balluff's industrial identification marketing manager. The BIS V processor can also be linked to a piece of equipment's programmable logic controller (PLC), which stores sensor data as well.

Visual sensors detect the presence of each hole or other structure, and ensure that those features are in the correct position or orientation. The sensors also detect or measure the presence of those features, such as verifying that a hole on the engine block is present and in the proper position. Vision systems can then measure that hole's diameter, and ensure that it meets the tolerance set by its customer.

When a new mold is created, a serial number is assigned to it, which is then stored in Nemak's software system. The mold is placed on one of the 52 self-powered steel carriers that travel down the assembly line on a monorail. Installed along the assembly line, says Adam Fortier, an electrical engineer at Nemak, are a variety of sensors—in most cases, a vision or laser system—that detect the carrier's presence and determine its location, as well as whether it is properly aligned, thereby indicating that each process is proceeding as expected. That sensor data, he says, is then evaluated by the PLC.

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