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Fieldbus helps Ford Mazda stay flexible in China

21 November 2012

Over the past few years, vehicle manufacturers in the West have seen possibly their biggest opportunity to date: selling to the world’s largest vehicle market - China. Back in 2004, the Changan Ford Mazda Nanjing Company was established by Ford and Mazda, operating a plant based on Mazda's 'Triangle Control' concept for multiple model production.

The Triangle Control concept is a hierarchical principle intended to address plant control at all levels, from model data at the top to actuators and sensors at the bottom. The overall aim is to keep things simple and standardised. As a hierarchical system, networks play a key role, and the network Mazda chose for this operation was CC-Link. The plant was a significant project for Mitsubishi Electric, whose systems are used extensively throughout.

A particular example of how the architecture enables manufacturing flexibility is in the body shop where the line must be able to cope with the production of various different models. The body framing system currently allows the production of six current models - Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2 and Mazda 3 - as well as reserving capacity for two additional future models. The entire shop is automated using Mitsubishi controllers connected via the CC-Link network.

The system divides into 24 stations, with each having multiple controllers in charge of three to four welding robots, making almost 100 robots in all. A further ten stations handle the under-body operations. CC-Link helps maintain operational flexibility, allowing production engineers to reserve future configurations. When actual production machinery is added, it’s a simple matter to enable the new parts of the network. This plug-and-play style of network configuration significantly reduces project lead times.

The welding line is a good demonstration of the reliability of the CC-Link network in aggressive industrial environments. Despite the conditions under which the network has operated, this line has run for approximately seven years without any downtime relating to hardware failures or network malfunctions.

Further enhancing this exemplary record is the easy system maintainability enabled by the network’s diagnostics. There is no need for complicated parameter settings, and the engineering team found it easy to create clear diagnostic displays to allow operators to see network status at a glance. Further, if faults were to occur, CC-Link allows malfunctioning stations to be removed from the network, serviced and then returned to operation without disrupting operations for the rest of the line.

The cost saving benefits of CC-Link were also a key factor in its selection. The use of standard cabling was seen as a major benefit, and the lack of special connectors or other additional hardware also contributed to cost effectiveness. Moreover, compact hardware footprints meant smaller cabinets could be used for network stations, reducing costs and enabling location flexibility.

Not least, performance was also an important selection factor. Despite large station totals and long distance requirements, CC-Link was able to offer millisecond update times, well within the plant’s requirements for data flow and machine cycle times. CC-Link Partner Association general manager, John Browett summarises:

“This plant was almost a textbook example of how CC-Link offers benefits to large scale applications such as those in the automotive industry. CC-Link has an established relationship with Ford and Mazda, beginning with the new Ford Mustang line several years ago in the US. No doubt the benefits obtained in that installation influenced the selection of CC-Link for the Nanjing plant.

“The plant is further demonstration of CC-Link’s ever increasing success in China. It’s clear to see that large end users such as Ford and Mazda have a huge influence on the OEM community. Hence we expect that the obligation to provide CC-Link solutions in the Chinese market will only continue to grow. Our Gateway to China programme is intended to help European companies leverage this opportunity.”

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