Automotive Globalization Pushes Standardization

Ford, American Axle Among Companies Reaping Benefits of Global Automation Approach

By Aaron Hand

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Automation Fair 2012

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Since the beginning of automated assembly, the automotive industry has been at the forefront of automation innovation and has led industrial manufacturing into several emerging technologies, including on-machine and mobile technologies, safety and the deployment of EtherNet/IP communication networks, noted Mark Joppru, global director of the automotive and tire business for Rockwell Automation, as he kicked off the Automotive Industry Forum this afternoon at the Automation Fair in Philadelphia.

The automotive industry has been operating on an increasingly global level, and where the car manufacturers go, so must their suppliers. "We don't call them suppliers anymore; they're partners," said Peter Daenen, chief program engineer for body construction engineering for Ford South America, who discussed Ford's globalization efforts during the forum. "It's critical that as we go global, they go global with us."

American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM) is a tier-one powertrain supplier that has had to make that move and now has 35 facilities worldwide. "We have gone global to follow the brands around the globe," said Jeff Smith, technology lead at AAM in Detroit.

Smith described his company's move from Interbus to EtherNet/IP in late 2006, which was prompted by increasingly global manufacturing capacity and the need to shake up its controls architecture. It was August, and the company was launching a new assembly system in January. Smith and his team were tasked with deploying a completely revamped controls architecture in just a few months.

The "Other Guys" Win

"I thought we would stay with the current architecture, given the timing. But I had to go through the process. I had to do my due diligence," Smith recalled. "And I'll be darned if the other guys didn't win." The "other guys" were Rockwell Automation and its Logix5000 control system, instead of the mishmash of devices AAM had been using.

AAM made the switch to Rockwell Automation controls and EtherNet/IP. The plan was to launch with one small system with five 1756-L61 processors. "We were going to test EtherNet/IP on that one little line," Smith said. Instead, they were asked to launch with four systems, three of which were significantly larger in scope and function. "One had 28 stations with 800+ EtherNet/IP edge devices from a wide range of vendors. And of course that one had to launch first."

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