By Wang Zheng, Liu Zhiqiang
The integrated development of a new generation of information technologies and advanced manufacturing technologies has become a distinctive feature of a new round of industrial reform.
So far, over 2,100 high-standard digital workshops and intelligent factories have been built across China. In particular, 209 demonstration factories, after going through intelligent transformation, have shortened R&D cycle by 20.7 percent, improved production efficiency by 34.8 percent, lowered defect rate by 27.4 percent and reduced carbon emissions by 21.2 percent.
Zeekr is a premium EV brand owned by Chinese carmaker Geely Automobile Holdings. Its intelligent factory is one example of the changes that smart manufacturing has brought to the industry.
In the general assembly workshop of Zeekr’s intelligent factory, newly assembled vehicles with different colors, wheel styles and configurations were rolling off the production line after passing final inspection.
“These vehicles have already been purchased before production,” Zhao Chunlin, vice president of Zeekr Intelligent Technology, told People’s Daily.
He explained that all Zeekr models are customized by consumers online. For instance, the model Zeekr 001 has more than 1.5 million combinations of options, and some 20 options are offered for wheels alone, Zhao said.
It is learned that an AI-enabled visual system for exterior inspection is employed to ensure that every consumer gets the options exactly as ordered. The system comes with high-definition cameras that scan nine key exterior parts of the vehicles, such as the roof, spoiler, roof trims, rearview mirrors, window trims and door handles, the recorded images are checked in real time in accordance with the order lists generated by a manufacturing execution system.
“Traditional carmakers can also manufacture different models on a same production line, but the number of option combinations, which are preset, can only reach around 100,” said Yang Hui, manufacturing director of the intelligent factory of Zeekr.
An intelligent whole-process solution is very much needed to ensure individual customization and efficient production, Yang added.
The intelligent factory of Zeekr, located in east China’s Zhejiang province and put into production in the third quarter of 2021, was selected by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as a demonstration factory for smart manufacturing last year.
It comprehensively employs intelligent and digital technologies, combines 5G and industrial internet, applys a transparent, swift and smart manufacturing system that drives green R&D with digital twin, ensures quality with intelligent production and achieves efficient collaboration under the assistance from industrial internet platforms.
In the general assembly workshop of the factory, car parts are delivered by automated guided vehicles and are identified before being installed.
To complete massive customized orders in an efficient manner is just one of the many tasks for the intelligent factory. Zeekr has also won recognition from consumers for its data processing and smart analysis abilities that ensure technical and product quality.
In the welding workshop of the intelligent factory, hardly any worker can be seen. Unlike those traditional welding workshops, there is neither pungent smell of metal nor much welding spatter in Zeekr’s factory. The 100% automation workshop is equipped with 703 welding robots and nearly 200 AGV robots.
“Welding spatter looks beautiful, but it has nothing to do with welding quality. On the contrary, welding spatter may indicate overheating caused by control failures of current or voltage,” said Zhao.
According to him, low current is needed at the beginning to soften the materials being welded and then the current shall be gradually increased to melt the materials.
Zhao told People’s Daily that there are over 4,800 welding points on the frame of the Zeekr 009, a multi-purpose vehicle model. It takes only around a second to complete welding at each point, but Zeekr divides the process into millisecond-level sections and generates a curve of welding current and voltage.
“Welding robots can not only manage the work at millisecond-level precision based on the curve, but also collect accurate data of the current and voltage for quality tracing,” said Zhang Xuye, senior manager of the welding workshop.
By constantly upgrading the intelligent factory, Zeekr aims to achieve flexible production of all its six models under three platforms in an effective and high-quality manner through digital and intelligent technologies, Zhao noted.