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BMW Group Munich: human and robot work hand in hand

The KUKA LBR iiwa lightweight robot assists the operator in loading side member reinforcements at the BMW plant in Munich. Human-robot collaboration (HRC) without endangering the human operator is possible thanks to the sensitive characteristics of the LBR iiwa. Fences or other safeguards are not necessary.

The initial situation

The cycle time. This presented a major challenge at the BMW plant in Munich. Beyond this, the task was monotonous and physically strenuous for employees. The production process had to be adapted to reduce the strain on the workers. The manufacturing step in which reinforcements for the side members of vehicle bodies are loaded required the expertise and automation experience of the Augsburg-based company KUKA. 

The task

To provide relief to employees and to maintain the cycle time: these were the requirements that the customer put to KUKA. Unlike with a new system planned entirely from scratch, the solution had to be integrated into an existing production line. It also had to be incorporated into the process in a space-saving manner. As a result, standardized products from the KUKA portfolio were not an option. An individual, custom-tailored solution had to be developed for the customer and the system.

The solution

Since July 2016, a KUKA LBR iiwa is now providing the human workers with support at the Munich plant. Why was the decision made for an HRC solution? Because subsequent integration was easier than for a design without HRC. It saves roughly 25% more space. A special HRC-capable gripper with integrated vacuum channels was designed for the LBR iiwa. Perfect collaboration with the human operator is thus possible. The human operator and robot now share the work for assembling side members at the BMW plant in Munich. The work sequence is designed as follows:

1. The BMW employee places the side member into the fixture and ensures there are sufficient reinforcement plates. 

2. The robot colleague handles the correct positioning of the plates on the side member, and then returns to a rest position. 

3. The KUKA industrial robot  KR 240 welds both workpieces. Here, a roll door is lowered for operator safety. 

4. On completion of the welding process, the roll door opens again and the operator can load a new side member. 

5. The lightweight robot leaves the rest position and automatically starts the process again from the beginning. 

No fear of making contact: the human operator and the robot collaborate to assemble the side members for vehicle bodies.

The advantages of the automation solution

• Subsequent integration of the solution possible. Only minimally invasive intervention required.

• Providing relief for employees: the robot supports the human operator in carrying out monotonous and ergonomically unfavorable work tasks

• Maintaining the cycle time: the specified production quantities can be achieved.


We can also imagine converting further production steps from a purely manual workplace to an HRC-capable workstation. The increase in product variety and the intensifying competitive pressure make human-robot collaboration and flexible solutions unavoidable.

Rüdiger Weber, Body-in-White Product and Process Planning at the BMW Group’s Munich plant

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