To handle continuous production for Chrysler Group’s Jeep® Wrangler, KUKA Systems Group needed an automated manufacturing solution that would connect assembly-line robots with a controller, multiple devices, applications, and back end systems.
The company implemented an intelligent system anchored by Windows Embedded and Microsoft SQL Server that controls 246 robots and produces more than 700 car bodies each day. The new solution has added flexibility to the manufacturing process, provided continuous
uptime, and increased visibility.
Based in Augsburg, Germany, KUKA Systems Group produces industrial robots that automate manufacturing operations in multiple industries around the world. The company created the first industrial robot in 1973, and launched a PC-based controller in 1996.
For the first time, the mechanical devices, software, and controller were integrated in one system. Now a leader in industrial automation, KUKA had installed nearly 80,000 robots worldwide by 2006.
||We manufacture a complete car body every 82 seconds…. (using an) intelligent system built with Microsoft technology.
| Jake Ladouceur
KUKA Toledo Production Operations
In 2004, KUKA Toledo Production Operations (KTPO), the company’s American subsidiary in Toledo, Ohio, successfully competed for a contract to manufacture Jeep Wrangler car bodies for the Chrysler Corporation. As part of the agreement, KTPO would be responsible
for the complete assembly of multiple car models in one factory.
The company had two years to design a manufacturing solution before production started in 2006. KTPO needed an intelligent system that could connect robots, line-of-business applications, back end systems, and multiple devices used in the manufacturing process.
Above all, the system needed to include a networked controller with enough flexibility to handle fluctuating production requirements. Jake Ladouceur, Managing Director at KUKA Toledo Production Operations, says “We needed to be capable of making eight different
models and producing more than 700 car bodies each day.”
To handle the high volume, the company required outstanding reliability and continuous uptime. “We couldn’t have any latency in the manufacturing system,” says Craig Niedermier, IT Manager at KUKA Toledo Production Operations. “So we needed tools and technology
that allow us to access information without affecting the flow of the shop floor.”
To meet its subsidiary’s challenges, KUKA Systems designed an automated manufacturing system based on a Microsoft platform with the Windows Server operating system and the Windows Embedded Compact product family. Microsoft SQL Server data management software
is used on backend servers to support quality control and other processes. The company knew that together, the products would provide enhanced connectivity between the production line and backend systems, as well as better usability with familiar Microsoft
The company, which has been working with Windows-based solutions since 1996, was one of the first in the industry to take advantage of Microsoft technology. “The idea was to use a mainstream technology that was developed for other domains like the consumer
industry, and drive service-oriented technology into the automation world,” says Michael Haag, Head of Research and Development at KUKA Robotics Corporation. “And of course we were able to benefit from built-in technologies right from the beginning, including
the Microsoft .NET Framework and network connectivity.”
KUKA Robotics created an extension platform so that Windows Embedded and the Windows .NET Compact framework can run together on one CPU. As a result, the environment supports both the KUKA robot controller and the KUKA Control Panel—also called the “teach
pendant”—which serves as the controller interface. The Windows .NET Compact framework provides real-time support for the controller and other industrial applications, while the teach pendant takes advantage of Windows Embedded communication and graphics capabilities.
The solution runs on a single industry-PC. All of the control tasks, including creating and running programs and diagnostic processes, can be performed directly on the robots from the teach pendant’s Windows-based interface.
The 246 robots on the shop floor are connected to 33 controller points, which connect to the primary controller and a Microsoft SQL Server cluster running on Windows Server. The cluster is used to manage production data, and it also shares data with a manufacturing
execution system that runs the shop floor. Other SQL Server clusters support an SAP enterprise resource planning system and quality assurance programs.
The network architecture supports 1,444 nodes capable of connecting with approximately 60,000 devices such as welding and sealing equipment. KTPO is also implementing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 to support facility administration.
With an end-to-end, automated manufacturing solution based on Microsoft technology, KUKA Toledo Production Operations has gained better business agility, continuous operations, and a more accessible system with a simplified, Windows-based interface.
By implementing a solution as a service driven by an intelligent system, KTPO has realized multiple benefits, including the ability to adapt quickly to daily changes in production requirements. “We manufacture a complete car body every 82 seconds, “says
Ladouceur. “So we don’t have time to adjust source code, and we can’t introduce something that isn’t trusted and proven. Our intelligent system built with Microsoft technology enables us to react very quickly.”
At KTPO, manufacturing operates 20 hours a day, and IT processes run without stop. “We’ve been operating continuously for more than six years with a system based on Windows Embedded.” says Ladouceur. “And when we need help, we’ve always been able to contact
Microsoft and get support—that’s always been a plus.”
The company can also work more efficiently with the teach-pendant’s familiar Microsoft interface, which has been the goal of KUKA Robotics from the beginning. “We wanted to give users in a manufacturing environment the same interface they worked with in
the office,” says Haag. “With a solution powered by Windows Embedded, there is no need for specialized training. They can also run their own Windows-based applications on the same PC with our controller—another advantage that isn’t available with other operating
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