Plastic Flange Deformation (PFD)

Due to the global energy crisis there is a vast increase in demand for heat exchangers that reduces the energy consumption during energy transfer between mediums. The current manufacturing process for brazed heat exchangers at the world leading manufacturer, Alfa Laval, involves a partial assembly process called Plastic Flange Deformation (PFD). The current PFD process is conducted manually and is completely dependent on human presence. The great increasing demand for heat exchangers worldwide creates the need for a more efficient and sustainable solution for the PFD process. To meet the capacity increase a higher level of automated process is required.

The key areas to investigate in this thesis are quality control and component handling within the PFD process. Concepts for the key areas will be developed and two new concepts for the automated PFD cell will be presented.

The used method for this thesis is a combination of the outline of Design Research Methodology (DRM) and the Analytical Hierarchy Approach (AHP) for the decision making process for the final PFD cell concepts. The Developed key area concepts are validated with either physical prototypes or virtually with solid mechanics analysis.

The result showed that there exist different solutions and possibilities for handling the large variety of components within the PFD process. The quality controls are solved with a combination of vision systems and actuator motors. The first concept for an automated PFD cell consists of two collaborative robots with specially designed grippers, that allow the robots to handle all the components and perform the quality controls. The cell contains specially designed racks for loading and unloading the pressure plates and frame plates. The second concept is a larger more complex solution with four industrial robots, and with a cycle time half as low as the first concept. Both cells contain the same developed key area concepts. The AHP suggests the second concept with respect to the weighting of the criteria from the stakeholders.

The conclusion of this work is that there are opportunities to automate and improve the PFD process using robotics and automated quality controls. The presented concepts can help Alfa Laval meet the increasing demand for heat exchangers in an efficient and sustainable way

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