Production technology of the Škoda Transportation group
A modern company offering top-tier products: this is the definition of the Škoda Transportation group thanks to its continuous investments in development and production.
The company places great emphasis on the development of technologies essential for the sustainability and competitiveness of its products, and the implementation of new technologies is important for both product development and production. This is evidenced by its investments – between 2020 and 2022 alone, the Škoda group will spend over 1.5 billion CZK on the expansion and modernisation of its companies. This approach allows Škoda to regularly bring its own solutions for modern, environmentally friendly and comfortable public transportation to the market.
INVESTMENT IN TECHNOLOGIES AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE PLANT IN PILSEN
In its Pilsen factory, Škoda is creating a brand new chassis production facility with state-of-the-art technology. This facility includes a robotic workplace for welding, and increased production capacity will enable the purchase of computer-controlled machine tools for approximately 80 million CZK. Škoda will soon be able to use the new facilities for chassis welding, painting and blasting.
One of the most important modern production technologies that increases the quality and speed of production is the new robotic laser workstation, which is used for serial production of parts that make up the frames of chassis and rough structures of railway vehicles. Škoda utilises a fully automated workplace – the robot reaches for a defined sheet metal and the cutting laser cuts the required shape of the part. After the necessary modifications, the part travels to the welding workplace. The entire line was developed in cooperation with a renowned Swiss manufacturer, and the cost of the investment was over 50 million CZK. Škoda is currently working on the development of a welding robot that will weld subassemblies of a new type of chassis frame. This represents an optimal synergy where the Technical Department develops a product and the Technology Department develops a workplace – naturally with the aim of achieving maximum production efficiency.
The major investment project in the company’s Pilsen factory includes the construction of a new testing facility where all vehicles can be tested. The whole base is divided into several workplaces. The prototype workplace designed for testing new types of vehicles is equipped with state-of-the-art technology according to the highest standards to meet the high demands placed specifically on the area of testing and trials. Along with this investment, a new transport system was created to connect the existing facilities and test tracks with the newly built facilities, as well as with the local railway line. The Škoda complex has a unique connection to the existing test tracks on which the company tests trams and all railway vehicles on three types of gauges. This connection, including switches, is unique, complex and tailored to the needs of Škoda Transportation. An interesting fact is that the industrial track will be grassed, which is in line with the company’s ecological approach.
Škoda is also investing in the equipment of technical laboratories, which enables more efficient work processes. It naturally also purchases specialised software solutions used in simulations with high demands on hardware and staff expertise. Testing with simulation is primarily used as a tool to reduce development costs and, most importantly, time. Without simulations, the new approaches could only be verified on the finished vehicle.
Production development results in better products, while also saving time and costs and developing employee skills. The development also focuses on increasing the efficiency of the use of materials. Vehicles with the Škoda logo also have excellent characteristics thanks to the use of unconventional materials such as fibre composites and aluminium alloys. Advanced technologies used in the Škoda group also include laser welding, higher utilisation of extracts and castings thanks to modern production processes, and advanced methods of gluing materials.
The development and testing of new traction equipment is performed in the test facilities and laboratories of the Škoda Electric subsidiary. The technical equipment here enables combined tests of motors with inverters, energy storage and power sources. This verifies and optimises functional parameters before the first mounting of equipment on the vehicle. The facilities also include specialised workplaces, such as an electromagnetic compatibility laboratory, or a laboratory for the development and testing of traction batteries. The scope covers components for the entire Škoda production programme, from road vehicles to locomotives.
Another of the group’s subsidiaries, Škoda Vagonka, was the first in Central and Eastern Europe to introduce integral construction bodies from large-area extruded aluminium profiles into its production program in the mid-1990s. Up to this point, this technology was used for high-speed trains and in the aerospace industry. The integral structure of the cabinet significantly reduced the weight (up to 20% compared to a differential steel body), especially for double-decker vehicles. Today, this innovation is in the full development competence of the Škoda Transportation group, and vehicles produced in this way are operating in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania and Ukraine. Their advantage is higher accuracy of weldments, which is reflected in the higher quality of the entire production.
Another advantage of the laser-welded sidewall is the possibility to produce a vehicle without external covering. These vehicles are lighter, which has a positive impact on overall wear and energy consumption. The technology has also been applied to tram frames, such as the ForCity Smart Ostrava and ForCity Smart Plzeň vehicle bodies, and it is planned for use in other projects. Robotic welding has the advantage of a well-adjustable and precisely repeatable process.
The Nová Vagonka project was launched in Ostrava in 2020 and is being completed in 2021; it is a giant investment project that will double the area of the Škoda Vagonka complex to 60,000 m2 in two years with a new paint shop, a modern machining centre and production lines. The total investment is around one billion CZK. The technological know-how in the field of control, multimedia and diagnostic systems of our subsidiary Škoda Digital is concentrated in Ostrava.
The machining centre in the new production base is the largest and one of the most modern in Europe. The centre includes two independent portals with a continuously controlled five-axis head with a maximum speed of 12,000 rpm. A total of 360 tonnes of equipment with a length of 49.5 metres, a width of 10.3 metres and a height of 7.5 metres is used for the production of subassemblies of rough structures of railway vehicles for customers in the country and abroad. The maximum workpiece size that can be machined with the two heads will be 39 m x 4.5 m and 28 m x 4.5 m with one head. This will multiply the production of rough structures fivefold to 250 per year.
The new modern paint shop was opened in May 2021, and with it 2 smaller automatic machining centres, a welding machine, and jigs for the other three welding lines were completed. The paint shop, which includes a total of eight workstations, can spray a wagon area of the size of a football pitch every week, and it is one of the largest in Central Europe. The workplaces are designed for both European vehicles and vehicles intended for the Eastern market. These include two combined spray booths (painting, curing and drying up to 60 °C), a blast booth, four preparation booths and a final acceptance workstation. The adjoining facilities are just as important as the workplaces themselves. Even though technical and (in terms of operating costs) economic and cost-saving solutions were taken into account in the design, the overall performance of the individual media is extraordinary. Booth heating is provided by burners with a total capacity of almost 2.5 MW, the total cooling capacity of the units is 1.1 MW, and the electrical switchboards are designed for an input of over 2.2 MW. The pressurised air is supplied by three efficient vane compressors with an external air dryer, one of which is equipped with a heat recovery kit for domestic water heating. The air distribution is in aluminium modular ducting with two 5m3 air ducts, and the total capacity of these compressors is over 3,000 Nm3/h. Gaseous emissions are captured by a zeolite concentrator and a three-chamber reactor.
Overall, the Nová Vagonka project will consist in the construction of a new paint shop, four machining centres, five new production lines for rough structures (cabinets), a final assembly line, land purchase, building insulation, facilities for employees, expansion and equipment of warehouses, improvement of the logistics of the complex, and more.
Development in Šumperk
In 2020-2024, Škoda Pars will be investing 460 million CZK in its production complex. Investments are focused on increasing the production capacities by 35% and further technological modernisation of the complex.
Investment construction began with the extension of the test facility and acceptance hall. Comprehensive modernisation of the main production hall is underway, and an investment in a new chassis and wheel repair shop is ready. The aim is to acquire up to seventeen new parking tracks and a new chassis repair line.
In the following years, the modern complex workplace “New Chassis Factory” will be built. In the first phase, the workplace will be equipped with two slides, a track with a length of 300 m and a new continuous washing machine for bogies. The installation of a new CNC lathe for wheelsets, a wheelset press and the construction of a dedicated bearing assembly and defectoscopy centre will be completed during the year, and the installation of a separate paint shop and blast booth will complete the entire chassis shop. Further investments are planned in Šumperk in the complete renovation of production facilities, such as the traction motor repair shop, electronics repair shop, and the technology of material preparation and cutting for the production of spare parts.