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Nissan is training robots to produce parts for old cars

Imagine this becoming a common process in the auto industry

Will robots ultimately replace human workers completely at car factories? We think they will. PHOTO FROM NISSAN

The manufacture of automobile bodies makes use of a stamping die, a precision tool that cuts and forms sheet metal into any desired shape. The sheet metal is pressed (or stamped) onto the die under immense pressure. This bends or fractures the metal, the result of which is a neatly chiseled panel for a car.

The thing about this manufacturing process is that, while it is cost-effective for models currently in production, the same cannot be said for vehicles that are no longer sold new. The manufacturer could keep making spare panels for these discontinued cars for a while, but it definitely cannot go on forever.

Robots can achieve precision no human can replicate. PHOTOS FROM NISSAN

However, Nissan has recently come up with something that could, in theory, create parts for older vehicles. They call it dual-sided dieless forming. The name sounds nerdy, but it is basically a method of having a pair of robots bend, cut and shape sheet metal without the need for a stamping die.

The difficulty of making dual-sided dieless forming work is mainly down to having the two robots cooperate with each other. Complex software code is required just to get the robots to dance with one another and make something worthy of passing Nissan’s tough standards for quality. The products that these machines build are essentially OEM parts and should be just as good as anything the automaker currently produces.

But for now, humans are still needed to program and supervise factory robots. But until when? PHOTOS FROM NISSAN

Nissan attributes the success of this breakthrough to the engineering know-how of its Production Engineering Research and Development Center, as well as to developments in material science courtesy of its Research Division. The brand’s accomplishments in developing this manufacturing technique are measured against three main goals:

1. Controlling both robots with a high degree of dimensional accuracy to form complex shapes through advanced software;

2. Reducing friction and eliminating the need for lubrication during forming by applying a mirrored diamond coating to tools. This allows the surface quality of the products to be consistent, and makes the entire operation cost-efficient and environment-friendly; and

3. High-quality results even in the early stages of production, brought to fruition by the development of the ideal pathfinding algorithm for the robots.

How does one compete with a robotic machine that doesn’t ever get bored or tired or hungry? PHOTOS FROM NISSAN

Nissan has yet to commercialize this, but it is hoped that dual-sided dieless forming could make producing spare and replacement parts for older vehicles a commercially viable undertaking. This is welcome news for those restoring classic rides such as the Fairlady Z and the Silvia.

Miggi Solidum

Professionally speaking, Miggi is a software engineering dude who happens to like cars a lot. And as an automotive enthusiast, he wants a platform from which he can share his motoring thoughts with fellow petrolheads. He pens the column ‘G-Force’.