Serving as many as 43 countries across the world, VE Powertrain (VEPT) has been supplying Euro 6-compliant engines for Volvo Group’s international commitments for many years now
VE Commercial Vehicles (VECV), on the other hand, is leveraging its global experience in complying with new BS VI emission norms. Auto Tech Review recently visited VEPT’s Pithampur facility to understand its manufacturing process of developing cost-optimised solutions for a greener tomorrow.
Swedish giant Volvo Group joined hands with Eicher Trucks and Buses in 2013 to turn India into a global hub for manufacturing medium duty engines. Leveraging each other’s strengths, Volvo Group brought in its global expertise, while Eicher brought its frugal engineering capabilities to the table; thus paving the way for VE Powertrain (VEPT), Pithampur to roll out five- and eight-litre engines complying with Euro 6 emission norms as well as manufacturing BS III and higher emission norm-compliant engines for the Eicher Group in a range of 180-350 hp.
VEPT is equipped with an installed capacity to roll out one lakh engines annually. Powered by as much as 50 % automation, the plant mirrors Volvo Group’s international engine manufacturing plants that boast of high precision activities. And this explains why VEPT’s shopfloor activities are undertaken in an air-conditioned environment, wherein a positive pressure is maintained at all times to ensure dust is eliminated during the engine development process.
The VEPT facility, which can roll out 400 engines every day, requires as many as 350-400 child parts to build an engine. These child parts are sourced from over 100 vendors. VEPT’s logistics centre undertakes the responsibility of receiving the entire lot of raw materials, wherein the parts are segregated and packed before they are supplied at designated assembly line stations to avoid last-minute confusions by the operator.
OPTIMISED ASSEMBLY OPERATIONS
Within the plant itself, the engineering team conducts the development and machining of the engine’s biggest parts – engine blocks and cylinder heads in which around 170 child parts are assembled. VEPT operates two separate lines for the piston assembly and cylinder heads to perform computer numerical control (CNC) operations, which also operate in parallel to the main assembly line to optimise production timings.
On the first loading station of the main assembly, the engine number is punched to enable end-to-end engine traceability. Right from the order to the delivery dispatch, every station in the plant is connected to the IT system that has been designed to guide each station on what operation needs to be conducted. The production preparation team at the backend prepares the set of material with kits that are required to be fed into the main assembly line through the IT systems. VEPT conducts Poka Yoke across stations, wherein various in-process verification and internal checks linked with every station are undertaken and allows the process to carry forward only when every step is adhered to.
Simultaneously, on the piston sub-assembly line, once the operator is through with initial assembly operation such as piston head with connecting rods, compression rings and lower oil rings are introduced across semi-automated stations and further machining is conducted. This is followed by fully automated stations, where the robot sourced from Comau picks up the entire piston assembly and transfers the same to the engine block. Thereafter, the piston assembly operation takes place inside the main engine block to roll out Euro 6-compliant product later.
Once the piston assembly is introduced into the engine block, the engine block is turned upside down, after which bearing caps, piston cooling, jet assembly and bearing assembly operations are carried out. Subsequently, important steps such as crankshaft introduction, shell assembly, main bearing cap pre-tightening operations are executed that involves 100 % in-process verification. Any engine that is produced at VEPT is checked at this stage, where the desired play of the engine is checked at the ‘torque to turn’ station that has to be within the design specification in the engine drawing. In case of any mismatch, the bearings are further tightened and the crankshaft is worked upon to check the torque for three different positions to avoid any product failure during on-road operations. In case the product still does not meet the quality standards, the engine block is reworked on before dismantling.
Valve train parts are assembled and precisely introduced into the smart cell through operations. Activities such as kit preparation aid valve setting and rocker arm assembly introduction to roll out a fully assembled cylinder head in subsequent stages. A few other operations including valve lash setting, pressure pump assembly, engine brakes assembly and lash setting (mandatory for BS VI-compliant engines) are undertaken here, following which the long blocks are fully ready (base engine) to be exported to Volvo’s plant in Vénissieux, France for its Volvo and Renault brand. This comprises around 30 % of the production.
MULTIPLE ENGINE CONFIGURATIONS
VEPT has been exporting engines in three configurations – long blocks, extended long blocks and fully built engines and the segregation of engine block type takes place at this stage. Long block is an engine sub-assembly comprising assembled engine block, cylinder head, camshaft and valve train. Parts such as fuel system, intake & exhaust components, electrical as well as other components that find application in a fully built engine are missing in long blocks.
Long blocks at VEPT are largely half engines without injectors that are packed at this stage and dispatched to France after final inspection. The workforce also keeps a sharp eye on the transit, where the engine block consignment remains on sea routes for over six weeks; thus, the engine lot is kept in a dry room operating in controlled temperature and humidity to remove moisture. This is followed by a heat shield to avoid any possibility of product rusting and only then a product can be shipped.
The completely-built engine units that are manufactured at VEPT comply with BS III to BS VI emission norms. Starting this stage, the extended long block (3/4 engine) is prepared, where the engine block is again inverted for operator ergonomics and the timing gear assembly is introduced into the engine, followed by gear train across two stations. In order to ensure the two assemblies have been executed in a designed way, the block undergoes checks with a black box. In the subsequent stages, fly wheel housing, fly wheel assembly along with other manual assemblies are deployed to prepare the extended long blocks that are exported to Volvo’s plants in Japan and Curitiba, Brazil.
For the fully-built engine, the extended road blocks are loaded on the 125 automated guided vehicles (AGVs) sourced from Hitech Robotics that work in tandem as a conveyor line for engine assembly and can be increased or decreased on the shopfloor as per demand. With every order for an engine, there is a bill of material attached to the same for each customer through Volvo’s IT systems. The production preparation team at the backend prepares the set of material with kits that are required to be fed into the main assembly line through the IT systems. Each stage has a digital standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure the sequence of operations is undertaken with precision, with every nut runner being electrically controlled with requisite torque that removes the possibility of any human error.
Subsequently, the highly diversified assembly line witnesses the introduction of front crankshaft seal pressing, high & low pressure pipes, oil pumps, common rail, turbocharger, engine mount assembly and alternator, among others. VEPT also houses a separate line for Volvo Penta engines for versatile applications such as off-roading, construction equipment, marine and genset application, among others. Once the engine is ready, it is transferred to the paint line job after being subjected to hot testing for a robust performance at a later stage.
Engine masking is the first step before preparing the engine for the six station paint line, excluding masking and damasking operations. Water-based paints are being used at VEPT – such paints are sprayed using electrostatic bell guns equipped with robots that ensure environmental-friendliness as well as paint savings. The engine block is then baked at 180° C for 20 min and each engine is rolled out in a cycle time of six minutes before they are dispatched for final delivery.
There is no denying the fact that India continues to face completely different duty cycles against its European counterparts and also in terms of product with power-to-weight ratio. However, riding on the sound experience of developing Euro 6-compliant engines for the Volvo Group, VEPT has also been tasked with supporting VECV towards complying with BS VI emission norms. With its advanced process management and sound mechanisation levels, VEPT is all set to offer a competitive advantage to VECV for a greener tomorrow.
TEXT & PHOTO: Anirudh Raheja