Home > Major CNC upgrade program enables engine manufacturer to extend lifecycle of vital production lines

Major CNC upgrade program enables engine manufacturer to extend lifecycle of vital production lines


Fiat Powertrain is upgrading the CNC systems of 20 key machine tools at its engine manufacturing plant in Campo Largo, Brazil. Used on the crankshaft and cylinder block production lines at the plant, the CNC systems are being upgraded to extend their lifecycle and minimise maintenance downtime.

Fiat Powertrain is using a custom upgrade kit, comprising of a high performance CNC unit, servo drives and motors, specifically designed by NUM to facilitate fast installation and provide improved diagnostics and simplified spares handling.

Part of the Fiat Chrysler group, Fiat Powertrain operates manufacturing plants at strategic locations around the world, including four in South America. Its Campo Largo plant on the outskirts of the Brazilian city of Curitiba specialises in the manufacture of 1.6 litre and 1.8 litre ‘E.torQ’ flexfuel engines for medium size cars, which can run on petrol or ethanol.

The Campo Largo plant makes extensive use of multi-axis CNC transfer machines, machining centres and specialist machine tools throughout its manufacturing operations. These include a wide range of Cinetic-Landis crankshaft grinding machines, Heller machines for the external milling and grinding of crankshafts, and transfer machines produced by Fiat subsidiary Comau for engine block machining. The plant’s crankshaft and cylinder block production lines are equipped with 20 key CNC machines, involving more than 120 feed axes. Each of these machines was originally controlled by a NUM 1050 series CNC unit, with NUM MDLU1 servo drives and NUM BMH series servomotors.

Concerns about the likelihood of downtime arising out of the ageing CNC systems motivated Fiat Powertrain in 2012 to take the strategic decision to extend the lifecycle of the production lines by upgrading all 20 machines with modern CNC controllers, drives and motors.

After reviewing various CNC manufacturers, Fiat Powertrain concluded that NUM offered the best upgrade solution for the specific needs of the plant because it was the CNC OEM for the existing machines and was able to provide a faster-to-implement solution with the best benefit/cost ratio.

Tarcisio Cruz Filho, Technical Support Manager at the Campo Largo plant explained that they needed a CNC supplier with the expertise and resources to collaborate on the design and installation of systems in Brazil, while the systems themselves had to provide exactly the same level of functionality as their existing CNC equipment. Fiat Powertrain was impressed with NUM’s management team in Switzerland for their commitment to the project as well as the quality of technical support, which included several on-site visits provided by their USA office, especially given that the Brazilian market for this CNC series was not huge.

A key requirement of the replacement CNC systems was that they needed to be engineered in such a manner that the upgrade could be accomplished as quickly as possible to minimise manufacturing disruption. Using video conferencing, technical teams from Fiat Powertrain and NUM quickly established that NUM’s Axium CNC platform provided the least invasive upgrade solution for the machines, by using the same robust architecture as the earlier generation 1050 series CNC to keep wiring and software modifications to a minimum.

As part of the CNC upgrade process, the servo drives on each machine were replaced by models from NUM’s latest NUMDrive C range, consisting of some of the most efficient and highest power density drives on the market, which further simplified installation by obviating the need for complex rack cooling arrangements.

The upgrade program also called for the motors on all the feed axes of the machines to be replaced. Originally fitted with NUM BMH series brushless servomotors, they have now been superseded by NUM’s BPH series motors, which provide enhanced performance and environmental protection.

Tarcisio Cruz Filho points out that speed of upgrade is vital to Fiat Powertrain’s production schedules. The plant allowed for a maximum of four days out-of-service time for each CNC machine on their crankshaft and cylinder block production lines. The machines’ diagnostics are now much better, allowing them to perform more efficient preventative maintenance, and their technicians are now familiar with the CNC systems, all of which will help reduce production downtime in the future. The upgrades will be completed by the end of this year.

In fact, collaborative knowledge transfer proved to be another valuable point in the partnership. Claudio Rocha, Manufacturing Engineering Director for Fiat Powertrain’s Latin American operations stated that the exchange of information and the training that NUM provided for the plant’s maintenance staff during the upgrade were important.

According to Steven Schilling, General Manager of NUM Corporation in Naperville, Illinois, NUM engineers have considerable experience with highly specialised CNC machines of this type used in the automotive industry, having serviced the ‘Big Three’ in Detroit, Canada and Mexico. In this case, Fiat was fully involved at each phase of the upgrade, working under NUM’s guidance allowing Fiat’s control technicians at the Campo Largo plant to gain a high level of NUM system know-how, to help achieve the project’s overall goal of maximising the production lines’ lifecycle.

Newsletter sign-up

The latest products and news delivered to your inbox