Japan's Carmaking Robots Emigrate To The U.S.

Japanese carmakers churn out new models quicker than their U. S. rivals, thanks in part to technology that allows them to retool factories easily. Now, Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corp. is bringing such a system to the U. S. The company is expanding its Smyrna (Tenn.) plant to house an Intelligent Body Assembly System (IBAS), a computer-operated mold for holding and welding major auto-body parts. The system is so flexible it can be reprogrammed in only three months to produce as many as four different car models at the same time; it takes 12 months to build a conventional jig or mold.

IBAS is made up of a box-like steel structure called the numerically controlled locator. Inside, 35 robots hold the body panels in place, while 16 other robots weld them to an accuracy within 0.5mm -- several tenths of a millimeter more precise than the assembly provided by conventional jigs. The system uses lasers to check the welding of each assembled unit at 60 spots. A computer using Nissan software runs the system. Nissan claims IBAS will cut production time and costs and produce a better product. It uses three such systems in Japan. The U. S. installation will help build a new sedan to replace Nissan's Stanza in 1992.

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