Research Papers

Fuel Cell ASAP: Two Iterations of an Automated Stack Assembly Process and Ramifications for Fuel Cell Design-for-Manufacture Considerations

[+] Author and Article Information
Christina Laskowski, Stephen Derby

 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180

J. Fuel Cell Sci. Technol 8(3), 031004 (Feb 16, 2011) (8 pages) doi:10.1115/1.4000684 History: Received July 08, 2009; Revised August 15, 2009; Published February 16, 2011; Online February 16, 2011

Polymer-electrode membrane fuel cell technology, a low-emission power source receiving much attention for its efficiency, will need to progress from low-volume production to high-volume within the course of the next decade. To successfully achieve this transition, significant research progress has already been made toward developing a fully functional fuel cell automatic stack assembly robotic station. Lessons can be drawn from this research with regards to design-for-manufacture (DFM) and design-for-assembly (DFA) considerations of fuel cells; however, more work still remains to be done. This document outlines both iterations of the robotic fuel cell assembly stations, other work to date, DFM and DFA lessons learned, and the anticipated future progression of automatic fuel cell stack assembly stations. Two individual robotic fuel cell assembly stations were constructed, including custom-built end effectors and part feeders. The second station incorporated numerous improvements, including overlapping work envelopes, elimination of a shuttle cart, software synchronization, fewer axes, and a better end effector. Consequentially, the second workcell achieved a fourfold improvement in cycle time over the previous iteration. Future improvements will focus in part upon improving the reliability of the overall system. As the stack assembly workcell continues to improve, research will focus upon the ramifications and interplay of tolerances, stack failure modes, sealing, reliability, and the potential for component redesign specifically to optimize fuel cell manufacturing throughput.

Copyright © 2011 by American Society of Mechanical Engineers
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Figure 1

Sample fuel cell stack and components utilized

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Figure 2

An ovular flow pattern allows multiple stacks to be built at once; a cart shuttles stacks between stations

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Figure 3

Manufacturing workcell No. 1 assembly plan (9)

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Figure 4

Robotic workcell No. 1

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Figure 5

Fuel cell assembly timing diagram

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Figure 6

Cognex DVT vision system

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Figure 7

The linear track and cart

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Figure 8

Bipolar plate feeder

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Figure 9

Bipolar plate end effector. Finger grippers and L-brackets grip plates from the bipolar plate feeder.

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Figure 10

Iterations of the MEA/gasket end effector

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Figure 11

Floppy part end effector as installed on Kuka Robot. A Venturi air supply line allows for gasket/MEA pickup via suction and placing via blowing.

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Figure 12

Adept robot workcell

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Figure 13

MEAs/gaskets exhibiting curl and distortion

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Figure 14

Two damaged bipolar plates. Lack of robust component tolerance quality control is suspected to contribute to assembly failure.

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Figure 15

A normal MEA next to one that has experienced a humidity induced curl



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