More than 100 years after the
first cars rolled off Henry Ford’s pioneering assembly line, Ford Motor Company
is breaking new ground in the way workers and robots are collaborating to
New collaborative robots, also
known as co-bots, are first being used to help workers fit shock absorbers to
Fiesta cars, a task that requires pinpoint accuracy, strength, and a high level
of dexterity. Employees work hand-in-hand with the robots to ensure a perfect
fit every time.
The trial at Ford’s assembly
plant in Cologne, Germany, is part of the company’s investigations into
Industry 4.0, a term coined to describe a fourth industrial revolution,
embracing automation, data exchange and manufacturing technologies. Ford sought
feedback from more than 1,000 production line workers to identify tasks for
which the new robots would best be suited.
“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, vehicle operations, Ford of Europe.
Measuring a little more than 3
feet high, the new robots work hand-in-hand with the line workers at two work
stations. Rather than manipulate a heavy shock absorber and installation tool,
workers can now use the robot to lift and automatically position the shock
absorber into the wheel arch, before pushing a button to complete installation.
“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 Ford’s
Equipped with high-tech
sensors, the co-bots stop immediately if they detect an arm or even a finger in
their path, ensuring worker safety. Similar technology also is used in the
pharmaceutical and electronics industries. Developed over two years, the robot
program was carried out in close partnership with German robot manufacturer,
KUKA Roboter GmbH.
Ford is now reviewing further
use of collaborative robots that can be programmed to perform tasks ranging
from shaking “hands” to making a coffee.
“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, key account manager, Ford, KUKA Roboter
GmbH, adding that “As part of our close partnership with Ford and based on the
feedback from employees, we are looking forward to further challenges.”
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