In a revolutionary move, humans and robots are collaborating to fit shock absorbers to Fiesta cars at a Ford factory in Cologne, in a test that aims to make the manufacture of vehicles quicker.
“Robots are helping make tasks easier, safer and quicker, complementing our employees with abilities that open up unlimited worlds of production and design for new Ford models,” said Karl Anton, director of vehicle operations at Ford Europe.
The experiment is part of Ford’s study of the Industry 4.0, a term used to describe the fourth industrial revolution, as the company moves to embrace robotics and automation.
The test also includes seeking feedback from plant workers to identify the tasks for the new collaborative robots, also known as the co-bots.
With a little more than three feet high, the new robots, which are co-developed with German robotics company KUKA Roboter GmbH, work alongside workers at the Cologne plant’s two stations with a task of automatically positioning the shock absorber into the wheel arch.
— KUKA Robotics (@KUKA_RoboticsEN) July 15, 2016
“Working overhead with heavy air-powered tools is a tough job that requires strength, stamina, and accuracy. The robot is a real help,” said Ngali Bongongo, a production worker at the Cologne plant.
Equipped with a technology that detects a person’s location, the robots have high-tech sensors that allow them to stop immediately if anything blocks their path, ensuring worker safety.
Ford said the robots, which can even be programmed to make coffee and give massages, can make vehicle assembly safe, fast and easier for plant employees.
“We are proud to show the capabilities of our new generation of sensitive robots that are supporting and collaborating with Ford workers by carrying out ergonomically difficult and technically challenging tasks,” said Klaus Link, a key account manager at KUKA.
“As part of our close partnership with Ford and based on the feedback from employees, we are looking forward to further challenges.”
Kelli Felker, Ford’s manufacturing and labor communications manager, said other assembly plants may also use robots in the near future, adding the company is looking at the possibility of implementing the scheme at their factories in North America.