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Design of a flexible, scalable, high quality production line for PEMFC manufacturing

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - INLINE (Design of a flexible, scalable, high quality production line for PEMFC manufacturing)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2020-01-31

Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells (PEMFC) are becoming more and more important for example in the field of industrial mobile applications such as intralogistics and municipal vehicles. The demand for fuel cells is increasing due to their application in transport as an alternative to combustion engines. Currently, the production of PEMFCs is manual and normally in low quantity. To lower costs and to extend the range of applications of PEMFCs new manufacturing processes are needed that require the solution for the following key challenges:

- Higher manufacturability at lower cost of essential fuel cell system components.
- Increasing quantities due to market demand.
- Automated end of line test.
- Traceability and quality data Collection.

Manufacturers of fuel cells, such as project partner Fronius, who is producing fuel cells for applications industrial mobile applications such as material handling and municipal vehicles, are in need of solutions for the above mentioned bottlenecks. These solutions correspond to the main technical objectives of INLINE:

Objective (A): Redesign of the media supply unit
Objective (B): Development of automated quality inspection methods to improve the end of line test and to ensure traceability of critical components
Objective (C): Scalability of the manufacturing process.
Three major objectives are pursued by the project. Details on these objectives and work done in the present reporting period to approach these objectives are outlined for each objective separately.

Objective (A):
- An evaluation and new design concept for the Media Supply Unit (MSU)
- Injection molding tools reworked for the redesigned MSU and optimized for MSU performance plastic
- Injection molding process settings adjusted for the reworked tools
- Labeling features to guarantee recycling and traceability
- Optimization of the hot-gas-welding process
- Evaluation of Laser-based-infrared-welding and adhesive joining
- Concepts for MSU production line and end of line testing were developed
- Elmination of Redundant production steps

Objective (B):
- The serial numbers of the suppliers of the most important single components of the HyLOG Fleet System were converted into Fronius serial numbers and integrated into Fronius MES (Manufacturing Execution System)
- Tracing of the single components and included in the MES documentation
- A software tool was set up to monitor the single production steps, the recorded data were also included in the MES
- Hardware set-up of the end-of-line test was described and planned in Detail, built up has started.
- Description and development of the software for the end-of-line test has started.
- Data from the end-of-line test from the HyLOG Fleet has been collected and analyzed for building up predictive models
- Concepts and hardware setup for a camera sensor for quality control of the assembly of the battery pack and also for the automated inspection with an endoscope sensor of the holes of the tank valve were developed and built

Objective (C):
- Development of a hardware setup for the assisted assembly station
- The manufacturing process of the tank valve has been improved as follows:
o New quality dimensional control process after the mechanical machining
o New thermal deburring process after the mechanical machining
o New washing process
o New cleanliness control process
o New end-of-line testing process with automatic machine
- A simulation model of the existing production process has been set up including the newly developed end of line test at Fronius
- The adjusted process for the assembly of the MSU was also modelled within the simulation.
"In the following, an overview about the current status of each contribution to impact is provided:
Impact 1 – The yield, cycle time and production capacity, demonstrated through simulation that with the improvements in the production process and product
The simulation showed the bottlenecks of the existing manufacturing process. Therefore an assisted assembly station is developed, to automate process steps and parallelize assembly for the HyLOG Fleet. Furthermore the end-of line test was improved to reduce cylce time and costs. Additional scenearios for reduction in cycle time and production capacity could be derived from the simulation.
Impact 2- Produce and validate engineering samples of the improved design for manufacturability of at least one relevant component, including its product validation.
The two key components tank valve and media supply unit have been analysed concerning manufacturability, assembly and costs. Based on this a redesign of the MSU took place, which improves the assembly as well as the production process. The manufacturing of the tank valve was also improved, the production process was simplified and more automated to generate a higher quality of the valves as well as a reduction of the production costs.
Impact 3 - Validate in hardware, with cycle time measurement, cost analysis and statistical evaluation, the performance of the improved system or system component production steps.
The first demonstrator for the inline quality assurance of fuel cell stacks provides real time applicability. A cost analysis will take place after the implementation of the final version.
Impact 4 - Validate the performance of the full system (or system component) production in an existing production line upgraded with the optimized process steps.
The new developed components (tank valve, MSU) as well as the new manufacturing processes will be shown at the review meeting, already at the production line of Fronius. Integration in the manufacturing process will then take on further development in the hardware setups. For the Demonstration #2, which will take place at Fronius in M24, the first performance indicators of the newly developed production steps can be recorded and validated by comparison with the simulation of the full production process. This will lead to further improvements in cycle time and Quality.
Impact 5 - Achieve components yields > 95% for the improved system component production steps
Two activities in the project aim at increasing the yield of system components. The first one relates to the manufacturing of the tank valve. This will be realized by automation of complex drilling operations, also poka-yoke System will be added in the assembly process and an assisted assembly line will be integrated. The second activity is related to the assembly processes in general and the MSU assembly in particular. Assistance Systems will be developed to provide integrated Quality Control.
Impact 6 - Feedback the project results into future system component development
The results of the development of the assisted assembly system and the production line will be incorporated in the development of future production lines for hydrogen-products at Fronius. The concept of the scalability of the production line, as well as methods for assisted assembly stations, will also be used for the conceptional design of other production lines at Fronius. The quality inspection of the holes of the tank valve using an endoscope sensor developed by PROFACTOR is currently built up in hardware and will be integrated into the production process of OMB. The redesign of the MSU has been realized by building up engineering samples of the MSU. The final design and also the improved manufacturing processes will be used in future production.
Fork lifter with integrated Hylog Fleet, also showed tank valve and Media Supply Unit