Fixturing is an expensive yet critical step in high-volume, close-tolerance production of parts, especially in the automotive industry. When holding a part in place, a fixture must be custom fitted to each part, making changeovers slow and expensive.
Lamb Technicon Machining Systems, a division of California-based Unova Inc., has developed an Intelligent Fixturing System (IFS) that offers a versatile alternative — rather than building a custom-clamping device for every part, each IFS fixture adapts itself to a range of different parts. The IFS fixture automatically calculates the difference between the actual and desired position and uses servo actuators to correct misalignments while the machine tool performs its drilling or cutting operation.
IFS is currently being tested at Lamb Technicon in Warren, Mich., and will be formally introduced at IMTS 2002. Besides lowering capital costs, the inherent versatility of IFS could one day allow automakers to more profitably produce "niche-market" vehicles with sales volumes less than 50,000 units annually.
Lamb estimates that the North American auto industry could save up to $750 million annually using IFS, based on domestic production of 15 million vehicles. For machine tool users alone, Lamb calculates fixturing costs exceed $600 million — for both new and existing equipment.
"Flexible fixturing has a strong potential to reduce capital-investment costs by as much as 25% per machining system," says Jim Herrman, senior vice president and group executive of Unova's Industrial Automation Systems segment. "When implemented, we anticipate IFS technology will also lower machining costs by $30 to $50 per vehicle."