Today our editorial series, Leadership in factory automation, turns to one of the most advanced automation projects underway in Australia – the development of the first Mega-line by Carbon Revolution to manufacture its unique one-piece carbon fibre road wheels at scale. By Peter Roberts.
Geelong one-piece carbon fibre road wheel manufacturer Carbon Revolution is pressing ahead with the automation of its processes and the construction of its first Mega-line production line despite a year that the global automotive industry would rather forget.
There was good news for the company’s wheels – the only single-piece composite wheel manufactured anywhere – as they were selected for high-end vehicles made by Ford, Ferrari, Renault and GM, including the recent releases of the Ferrari 812 Competizione and 296 GTB and the Chevrolet Corvette ZO6.
But there was a lot more bad, with the company heavily impacted, first by the Covid-19 disruptions to production in the car industry, and then by the global shortage of semi-conductors, helping it plunge to a $32 million after tax loss in FY21.
In April the company raised $95 million to fund its Mega-line expansion, which will see production volumes rise to match demand from four new wheel models including for SUVs and electric vehicles which it plans to make at higher volumes.
Carbon Revolution CEO Jake Dingle (main picture) told @AuManufacturing that the Mega-line installation (pictured, below) was making ‘very good progress’ and was on-time and in line with budget.
Dingle said: “As we move to implement SUV and pickup wheel programs at much larger volumes than existing programs, we need to expand our production capability, at the same time…seeking to boost operational efficiency.
“The first Mega-line will enable the factory to become further industrialised and automated, which will be vital for Carbon Revolution to meet future supply obligations, while also driving down costs.”
So far in the program key installations include:
- An increase in the number of high pressure moulding stations to four
- A new automated wheel face layup conveyor line which introduces process automation and eliminates manual movement of work in progress
- An additional multi-head tailored fibre placement machine, additional machining centre and a second thermal barrier coating cell
- And the first of the company’s third generation automated rim layout machines, bringing further automation and cycle time improvements.
Dingle said these automated processes – the first time this has ever been attempted in composite wheel production – were the key building blocks of of its Mega-line technology.
With orders and construction of long lead time items placed and underway offsite, early 2022 will be when the Mega-line starts to come together at Carbon Revolution’s Waurn Ponds factory.
The Mega-line will incorporate existing plant equipment, which will allow more parts of its production process to benefit from the Mega-line’s increased operational efficiencies.
This includes the company’s Diamond Weave Technology which has already improved the first-time aesthetic quality of its wheels, while also improving part flow and reducing labour cost per wheel.
“Using industry 4.0 principles, we have partnered with the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI) at Deakin University to create a digital twin, to improve the speed and the quality of the design and commissioning of new equipment.
“This tool enables us to build a wheel, virtually, through the entire process. It has allowed us to iterate or upgrade equipment prior to installation, ensuring a smoother rollout of the Mega-line when we launch it in the new year.”
Dingle said the company was advanced in producing its first 23 inch wheel for an SUV program, with the Mega-line allowing the production of 24 inch wheels to follow.
Carbon fibre’s weight advantages over aluminium wheels increases as wheels get larger, with Carbon Revolution touting 50 per cent weight reductions as feasible, and overall weight savings of 50kg to 70kg – considerable for any vehicle but critical for electric vehicles.
“We are increasingly confident in the major disruptive role that we can now play in the automotive wheel industry.
“We are only just getting started.”
Pictures: Carbon Revolution/Jake Dingle main picture/below, high-pressure moulding station
@AuManufacturing’s editorial series – Leadership in factory automation – is brought to you with the support of Bosch Australia Manufacturing Solutions, and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre.
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