Drives and Controls Magazine
Collaborative robots join humans on a Ford line in Germany
Published:  15 July, 2016

Ford has become one of the first car-makers to start using collaborative robots (cobots) alongside human workers on an assembly line. It is using cobots supplied by Kuka to help fit shock absorbers to Fiesta cars at its plant in Cologne, Germany, thus ensuring a perfect fit and avoiding the need for workers to access hard-to-reach places. The task requires pinpoint accuracy, strength and dexterity.

The 1m-tall robots are working with line workers at two workstations, avoiding the need for them to manipulate the heavy shock absorbers and installation tools. The robots lift and position the shock absorbers automatically into the wheel arch, before a worker pushes a button to complete the installation.

To ensure worker safety, the cobot stops immediately if it detects an arm, or even a finger, in its path.

“Working overhead with heavy air-powered tools is a tough job that requires strength, stamina, and accuracy,” explains Ngali Bongongo, a production worker at the plant. “The robot is a real help.”

Ford employees in Germany are working with collaborative robots to help ensure that shock absorbers are fitted perfectly every time.

The cobot application, developed over two years in partnership with Kuka Robots, is a part of a Ford programme to develop a new, integrated approach to having car workers and robots working together on assembly lines.

“Robots are helping to make tasks easier, safer and quicker, complementing our employees with abilities that open up unlimited worlds of production and design for new Ford models,” says Karl Anton, Ford’s director of vehicle operations in Europe.

The trial forms part of Ford’s investigations into Industry 4.0. The company has asked more than 1,000 of its production line workers to identify tasks for which the new robots would best be suited. The company is now reviewing the further use of collaborative robots.