Wireless Technology Modernizes Stamping Presses for Kia Motors

A Kia Motors Europe pilot project replaces manual operation of gantry cranes with 802.11n industrial radios connected to PLCs

Most automotive factories operate on a large scale and the Kia Motors plant in Zilina, Slovakia, is no different. This US$1 billion dollar plant is capable of producing 300,000 vehicles per year, and assembles eight different vehicle models on one assembly line. Popular Kia models at the Slovakia plant are the Sportage, Venga and Cee’d.

Besides the prolific assembly line capabilities, this European Kia plant manufactures body frames and components in its stamping and press operation department. Common stamping dies include fenders, doors and engine hoods. 

VIDEO: Kia Motors Reveals Assembly Line Production

Recently, this global car manufacturer decided to modernize its stamping and press warehouse and connect large gantry cranes to its control network. These gantry cranes transfer stamping dies to the main press lines. The project involved a wireless communications network and 802.11n industrial radios from ProSoft Technology connected to a Rockwell Automation (www.rockwellautomation.com) Allen-Bradley Logix 5561 programmable logic controller (PLC), with a DeviceNet 1756-ENBT ControlLogix module.

Kia Motors would not comment on the expected return on investment for the new system, but management indicated that worker safety, plant modernization and ease of commissioning were big reasons for the move to wireless in the stamping and press warehouse. 

No more manual operations
The gantry cranes at Kia are workhorses when the company increases production. Up to five die pieces could be needed to produce a car panel, and each can weigh 40,000-65,000 lbs. Monitoring the cranes always had been a manual operation—and a dangerous one. “It was necessary to connect the overhead cranes to one network and be able to access the PLC from any maintenance computer in the auto press shop,” says Tomas Potocar, Kia Motors engineer.

Potocar and the Kia Motors team went to the Automation University in Podbanske, Slovakia, where they learned about ProSoft Technology’s (www.prosoft-technology.com) portfolio of wireless products. “Shortly after hearing this presentation, a discussion about Kia Motors needs started,” Potocar says.

The automated system they chose involved affixing a ProSoft Radiolinx 802.11n wireless radio to each of the five cranes in the die operations area. Using the radio, the gantry cranes communicate with the PLC in the panel room. Gantry crane diagnostics are communicated to a PC in the maintenance shop, located approximately 15 meters from the panel room. It was this distance between the two rooms that dictated a wireless solution, according to Kia Motors.

The industrial radios support multiple input/output (MIMO) technology, high data throughput, safety certifications, Power over Ethernet (PoE) and high vibration/shock resistance characteristics.

Kia Motors personnel installed the industrial radios themselves, while a CSM technical supervisor from Rockwell Automation handled the software installation. The software configuration included a firmware update, IP address range change on all end devices, and workforce training on the wireless network that was completed in two days. A gateway device was not needed due to all the devices being on a local subnet.

Easier maintenance
“Only if the overhead crane was in ‘home’ position near the step could a maintenance engineer get to its cabinet in 10 minutes. Now, it’s possible to get access [to the system] from the maintenance room immediately,” says Josef Nekvinda, CSM technical supervisor, Rockwell Automation.

Easier operator maintenance, and greater overall efficiency, was the overriding impetus for this update, but safety was a big component too. Before the wireless installation, engineers had to climb up 14 meters of stairs or ladders on the gantry crane, then access the crane controller to connect it directly to a processor for diagnostics. Potocar says the automated system “helps us diagnose these overhead cranes and monitor signals during production from a safe position.”

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