Teaching robots to make replacement parts for discontinued cars


    by Deriq T. Bernard

    AUTO enthusiasts know this problem very well—the difficulty of finding parts for their well-loved, but discontinued cars.

    If all goes well with Nissan’s plan, that problem can be solved soon. The automaker has developed a new way to use robots to make car parts out of sheet steel and bring custom made replacement parts for discontinued models more widely available for enthusiasts and customers.

    Nissan calls it dual-sided, die-less forming, a proprietary technique they hope to commercialize very soon. The process is very flexible, allowing for shorter lead times and minimal upfront costs even for one-off parts that would otherwise be very expensive to produce. The process can make it commercially viable to produce and sell a wide variety of after- service and replacement parts in small volumes for cars that Nissan no longer makes. This was previously not possible due to the high upfront costs and long lead times to develop and make dies for stamped parts.

    The dual-sided, die-less forming technique involves two synchronized robots working from opposite sides of a steel sheet, using diamond-coated tools to gradually shape the steel.

    Until now it has been considered too difficult to commercialize. This was due to the complexity of programming two robots to operate synchronously while ensuring consistent quality. Existing techniques have primarily relied on single-sided forming, which limits the complexity of shapes that can be created. By placing robots and tools on opposite sides of a steel sheet, they can create more difficult and detailed shapes.

    The new technique was made possible thanks to the production engineering expertise at Nissan’s Production Engineering Research and Development Center, along with advancements in materials technology by Nissan’s Research Division.

    These advancements include the development of advanced programs capable of controlling both robots with a high degree of dimensional accuracy, enabling the formation of detailed convex and concave shapes.

    Another breakthrough is the application of a mirrored diamond coating to tools, reducing friction while eliminating the need for lubrication. This has numerous benefits, including consistency of surface quality and low-cost, environmentally friendly operation.

    Finally, the generation of optimized pathfinding logic for robots, drawing on the ample expertise and press-forming simulation techniques ordinarily used by Nissan’s production engineering teams. This enabled Nissan to achieve high quality results early in the development process.

    Nissan plans to continue pursuing advancements in mass production while also dedicating R&D resources to honing its flexible low-volume production techniques.