Summer 2022

Technology that attracts: Switchable magnetic materials handling

AMS contributor Michael Nash sat down with Cengiz Kizilkan, president of Magswitch Technology Europe, to discuss the company’s latest surface adapting technology and the current trends in automotive such as consumer demand for customisation, the rise of electrification, and the importance of cutting carbon emissions

Sometimes it is the little things that have the largest impact. Companies looking to improve the efficiency and capability of their manufacturing facilities may consider investing large sums on the latest robotics, sensors, or digital monitoring systems. But the adoption of flexible tooling solutions might just provide a greater return and some unforeseen advantages.

Michael Nash: Can you describe the new surface adapting technology, Magswitch Method, the role it plays on the production line, and how it can help increase the efficiency of manufacturing facilities?

Cengiz Kizilkan: We are increasing the level of value-added time during the manufacturing process with our new surface adopting technology. Our aim is to get rid of all the tool changing and have built-in flexibility. This is what we have achieved with the proof of concept – the clamping surface can adapt to the surface of the part that is being produced, which eliminates all the necessary steps to change models, toolings, and grippers. It saves a lot of time and increases the flexibility of the production line dramatically.

Imagine a body shop where an Audi A1, a BMW 7-Series, a Mercedes S-Class and a Fiat 500 are all on one line. This is what we are now working on. Market requirements mean there are more vehicle derivatives, and ideally, these models will all be made on the same lines.

OEMs should investigate the highest possible flexibility of their manufacturing processes

MN: What about the rise of electric vehicles? Perhaps more EVs will be made on the same production lines as non-electric cars?

CK: Absolutely, and maybe in the future there will be other alternative materials and drivetrains that will have further influence. Not only that, the sustainability and the CO2 footprint of OEMs is becoming more important. Some OEMs are taking the hit on the mileage per charge, making a heavier vehicle and using steel. Others are using aluminium, which typically has a very high carbon footprint when it is produced, processed and recycled.

If companies are considering all this in their philosophy of building cars, they should investigate the highest possible flexibility of their manufacturing processes, not only in building different models but also in scaling the production rates.

So, if one model, due to whatever reason, has not sold as well, or a certain crisis means that parts are not available for a particular model, then the facility can adapt to scale-up production of the models that are doing well.

MN: Do EVs have unique components and materials that make it difficult from a tooling standpoint?

CK: We are involved in discussions with OEMs about the future, speaking about where the passenger vehicle journey might be heading and the different kinds of composite materials, even organic materials that may be used in the future body-in-white. And for EVs, battery cell production is definitely an area we are also getting involved in. We are developing solutions right now, and we have implemented one, where we are also supporting and improving the efficiency of battery cell and battery package assembly lines and manufacturing lines.

Single-sided gripping is the key. Our answer to the challenges of the industry. Yes, our name is Magswitch. There is a link to magnet. This is where we come from. But our technologies and our attention is not limited to ferrous materials. Having these conversations with, and the guidance also from certain executive-level persons in the industry, made us invest in non-magnetic tools and non-magnetic technologies, still single-sided, reducing energy consumption. Away from suction cups, from the most expensive medium in manufacturing, which is compressed air, because of all the leakages and so on. Our latest intelligent products are all running electrically, but still the core technology is the same.

We are also considering non-ferrous material where magnets cannot be used for handling. So, for example, wooden composites are on trend right now, with more being used in the interior. Magnets will obviously not work when handling these parts, or large plastic composite parts. So, we are coming up with technologies, and in the near future, our portfolio will increase around non-magnetic products to still offer the Magswitch Method but not necessarily with magnets.

MN: Can the Magswitch Method be used on existing manufacturing sites, or do carmakers adopting the technology need to build new production facilities?

CK: If we are talking about greenfield sites with new lines, introducing Magswitch Method is very simple. Capital investment is reduced, as are space requirements. The lines won’t need as many robots and fixtures, so the overall size of the building can be smaller. It is more challenging if we are going into a so-called brownfield site with existing lines. Adopting Magswitch Method will still result in benefits and improvements, but not on the same scale as when introducing it on a brand-new site.

To gain the most benefits, we ideally start at a very early stage of a project, which is so-called ‘simultaneous engineering’. The first material flow of the body shop is created on a layout, because this is where our technology adds the most benefits. Instead of sticking to the old way of estimating the budget for a body shop, at this very early stage we already can provide a saving on the budget, which can then be used for additional scope that may be necessary in the future.

MN: How do you see your portfolio sitting in with the connected manufacturing line of the future?

CN: One of the major aspects of Industry 4.0 is that the product which is manufactured is a customer of the station. So, the product tells the station, ‘This is what I need’. And the station with all the equipment – robots and so on and so forth – has to serve this customer, this product. And there are always procuring problems. Sensors might not work properly, for example – minor issues which nowadays typically are tackled by maintenance people that are supervising the lines. They must identify the point on the line with the problem, and manually make an adjustment to correct it.

We are developing products with built-in intelligence. So, instead of having a separate sensor which checks if the part is there, we have everything built in. So, if the clamp closes the magnet is actuated. It knows that the part is safely and securely clamped and gives feedback. This will lead to less production stops and greater efficiency of lines.

Magswitch says single-sided gripping is the key and delivers its answer to industry challenges

MN: How does the new Magswitch Method technology fit in with your existing portfolio and your history?

CK: Magswitch was established in 2008 as a company specialising in switchable magnets and permanent magnets with a failsafe function. It started with manual tools, but in 2009 a customer made the step to automated tools, and we adapted the technology for them. After this, we were very eager not only as a component supplier to supply products, but to deliver technologies that really improve the entire process and are catered for individual customer needs.

So, we have been tackling certain challenges for several years now. An example is with high temperature applications in the automotive industry, and the handling of boron ultra-high strength steel parts at 350°C, which is typically a no-go for permanent magnets. But we successfully designed, developed, produced and tested at an OEM site, which really opened the door with one OEM in Germany to start our journey in the automotive industry. And the results of the White Paper we produced back in 2013 and ’14, which predicted a capital investment saving of up to 27%, was proven over time.

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Now the word is spreading. There are ways of changing the way things are done, improving the efficiency of lines by improving the flexibility of the lines and saving money. This is a kind of goal of every OEM to increase the model flexibility, keep the facility sizes as they are and, nowadays very important, reduce energy costs and running costs. A higher level of automation with less direct operators.

MN: What is your vision for Magswitch?

CK: Over the past 20 years there has been an evolution in body-in-white manufacturing. Our vision at Magswitch is not to be part of this on-going evolution but create a revolution. The difference is the time where the change happens. So, we want to apply big changes to how things are done within the shortest time frame. We need to reduce energy consumption drastically, reduce our carbon footprint, increase the flexibility of models. This is our vision – a solution that can provide support in all areas.

Acceptance is the only hurdle because it is difficult for a human being to understand. That’s also how our technologies and our processes are treated at first sight, because they are completely different to how things have been done until now. But the next few years will require a huge change from the industry, and we can be there to support this.

Find more about the Magswitch Method here