For nearly 50 years, Eissmann Group Automotive has specialized in supplying high-end leather trim and automotive interior components for virtually all the well-known manufacturers in the automotive industry. Through a passion for innovation and a keen eye for detail, their work has made major contributions to the driver and passenger experience in some of the most celebrated vehicles across the globe.
The recent design and installation of a robotic flame-treating cell in Eissmann’s Pell City, Alabama facility is representative of this attention to detail, and the drive to continually improve manufacturing processes.
Eissmann’s core business is to finish any interior components of passenger vehicles that are wrapped in leather, with the exception of seats. This includes glove boxes, door panels, gear shift modules and complete instrument panels (i.e. dashboards). The components vary in size, shape and complexity, many wrapped with padding in addition to leather, with other, “hard cladding” parts featuring leather attached directly to the substrate frame, often made of polypropylene plastic. While the polypropylene substrate frames provide the perfect balance of strength and low weight that car manufacturers demand, polypropylene and other plastics can be difficult materials to adhere things to without some sort of surface preparation.
Surface Treatment increases surface energy for better adhesion
Treating plastics with either atmospheric plasma or flame treatment is known as an effective means of cleaning and functionalizing a surface to enhance its ability to form strong bonds with an adhesive. Treatment oxidizes the surface, creates a high surface energy and increases potential bonding sites. Applying the adhesive soon after treatment is a best practice, as treatment will decay over time. In this application, the treatment easily lasts longer than the one production shift required before the padding or leather needs to be adhered.
Eissmann had been applying the heat manually with a propane torch, or by passing the parts under a stationary flame-treating unit. The process worked well for the basic components, but became cumbersome and time consuming as the components got to be larger and more complex.
“We began to get more full instrument panels, which are larger and more intricate than some of the other interior parts we were handling,” said Barrett White, the Eissmann manufacturing engineer in Pell City with responsibility for the interior trim finishing lines. “The manual flame-treating process became difficult because the large parts are harder to maneuver and they typically have a lot of undulations and openings that need to be treated.”
Early in 2012, White and the Eissmann production team, looking for a better way, consulted with two partners with whom they had worked in the past: Fitz-Thors Engineering in Bessemer, Alabama, a designer of manufacturing automation systems and a certified ABB Robotics value provider; and Enercon Industries of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, a manufacturer of surface treatment systems.
Early in the specification and design process, as a range of concepts were reviewed, the one constant that emerged was that the core component of the new system would be a 6-axis robot with a flame burner attached to the end of the arm. The robot would be able to provide the motion needed for the burner to access all areas on the component substrates, flexibility to handle different parts with a push of a button, and speed to keep up with the growing production demands. . .
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