Have you ever wondered about how the basic structure of your car was created? Or perhaps you wonder how the headlights are manufactured, or what went into making the tires you chose to put on your car. Here is how each of those are generally made, directly from a previous worker in automotive manufacturing.
I once worked for a manufacturing company that built vehicle frames. It is a company based in Germany; thus, it was focused on vehicles such as Volkswagens, Audis, Mercedes and BMWs. There were many positions available. But other than the assembly position (consisting of screwing parts into other smaller parts), I was a part of the "big deal" of the company.
My team ran a huge furnace. The furnace was run by a minimum of ten people. The first part of the process began with loading the machine onto a vertical conveyor belt set up. We would load the machine with the metal we needed. It could be anything from the side panel, to the area around the windshield, to the bottom structure under the door frame. It would then be loaded into the furnace by a robot.
After fifteen minutes of it "riding through" the furnace to the opposite side another robot picks it up and places it on a die. The die in the shape of whichever part you had put in, and is as interchangeable as the parts you decide to run. The die's purpose is to "mold" the labeling into the metal: the date, number of the company that made the part, etc.
The ride through the furnace is necessary to help the die create a good part. Next, the new part is picked up by another robot and transferred to a conveyor belt, where it is pushed through a sander. The sander simply sands the metal down for smoothness. The final step is an oil application to the component. A final person quickly inspects the part, places it into a bin for more thorough checking later, and the process continues.
Headlights are a bit more complicated. A headlights life starts in a box as nothing more than a bead. Each beads is processed and melted into the plastic it needs to be. After the plastic is made, that piece is now call the housing, because it houses all the other components. It is the base to which every other piece will be added.
The housing is sent over to the line where it is needed (depending on the kind of headlight it is, the kind of car that is being manufactured, etc.) From there, we build, adding light pipes, light bulbs and wire harnesses. After all the small knick-knacks are in place, the assembly heads to the welder. The welder uses a laser to attach and melt the lens onto the housing, which is when it finally begins to look like a headlight you might use for your vehicle.
Next it will head into the oven, which can hold up to 60 headlights. This furnace helps make sure the lens in correct. After 60 assemblies have gone down the line, they each get put on a Ferris wheel! No joke. There is a Ferris wheel contraption that cools each part before the next step. The wheel holds about 10 headlights.
You then add a couple more screws and extras, if needed, and then the final steps are underway. Headlights must pass a leak test and a light test. To perform both, the part is simply placed in a machine and the machine does all the work. If it does pass, the primary operator (the one calling the shots), marks it, puts it in the bin, and it heads to QA yet again. If it does not pass, a technician or QA is called to decide what to do from there.
Finally, tires. Tires are also complex to make, but a little more simple to explain. They also start in a bead-like form. The beads are dumped, mixed and melted with other components to be made into rubber. As the rubber is being formed, there are people making the outer lining of what will be on the tire. In the next step, they will get pushed through a machine and molded together.
Once they come out, they look like an over-filled jelly donut that has burst in the middle. The outside of the "tire" is pushed out, and it looks nothing like a tire. This is called a green tire. The green tire is then transferred by conveyor to the curing section. The curing section, is yet another furnace. It will push those outsides in, and brand the mold of the date, the company, the DOT number, etc.
The tire will then be trimmed, depending on what kind of tire it is. When a tired is trimmed, the excess rubber is cut off, including the little nibs you may see on your tread from time-to-time. And, of course, the entire tire is inspected. The inspectors get a tire dropped down from the upper conveyor belt onto a roller. The roller allows them to spin the tire as if it were going down the road; it rotates as well, so they can see every angle of the tire. They check for basic abnormalities, and send it off on a lower conveyor belt, or take it off if there is something wrong.
Of course, every company is very thorough on quality assurance, as this is for the safety of their customers. Every step is always checked by nearly everyone person who touches the part, as well as checked at quality assurance at the end of the process before being shipped. There are a lot of people who check your products before they get to you. I hope this article helped give you perspective into the world of automotive manufacturing and reassurance that your car is built with the quality you deserve.