Ford Motor Company revealed that it is testing an assembly line robot that assists human line workers through difficult tasks.
Workers make use of collaborative robots (co-bots, for friends) to fit shock absorbers to Fiesta cars in the factory in Cologne, Germany. The robotic assistance comes in handy for ensuring the perfect fit of the automotive parts and also helps workers deal with hard‑to‑reach places.
Prior to deploying the co-bots, it was up to the workers to juggle the shocks and tools to the shock absorbers, but the mechanized help makes the toil much easier.
The robots, which were co-developed by Ford and German robotics company KUKA Roboter GmbH, are built with two goals in mind: to help the assembly workers and offer extra design freedom.
The robots come packed with position-sensing technology that locates where the human worker sits and stands in the vicinity to provide help. The sensors are crafted so that they recognize the more "squishy" parts of the human body, such as fingers. This helps prevent accidents among the human workers.
The robots are able to do some heavy lifting, but Ford explains that they are fully programmable for more delicate tasks as well. According to the carmaker, the co-bots could even make coffee.
Ford makes clear that the co-bots make the vehicle assembly line a safer, faster and high-quality work environment. They also reduce fatigue and stress for the human employees, which is an added bonus.
"Working overhead with heavy air-powered tools is a tough job that requires strength, stamina and accuracy. The robot is a real help," says Ngali Bongongo, a worker at Ford's plant in Cologne.
The 3-foot-tall robots are only present at the factory in Cologne but the future might see them expand their presence. Insiders from the manufacturing and labor communications department state that Ford is looking at bringing similar co-bots to North American assembly lines.
Ford is not the first company in Germany to put robotics to work. Last year, we told you about a robotic arm that BMW is using in its assembly lines, as well.
Automotive fans should pay heed to Karl Anton, the leader of vehicle operations at Ford Europe.
"Robots are [...] complementing our employees with abilities that open up unlimited worlds of production and design for new Ford models," he notes.
Albeit not elaborating on the detailed ways in which these robots could affect car design, the promise is great for both designers and engineers. The fact that neither designers nor engineers have to compromise for the physical limits of human workers opens up unprecedented possibilities for imagining and building the cars of tomorrow.
Check out the video below to see the robot activity in full swing.