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Robots built by robots

KUKA Roboter opens one of the most modern robot production facilities in the world – investment for the future at the Augsburg plant

1 aprile 2004

A well-thought-out manufacturing line with short processes and a logistical masterpiece in terms of materials flow, with state-of-the-art test stands and measurement stations, all add up to ensure optimal utilization and maximum product quality. The particular highlight: Robotic “colleagues” help with the manufacturing of these six-axis machines. Today, after months of rebuilding work at the Augsburg site, KUKA Roboter GmbH was able to open Shop 7, one of the most modern manufacturing facilities for industrial robots. At the same time, it was a major vote of confidence for the Augsburg location.

350 employees at KUKA ProTec GmbH, a subsidiary of KUKA Roboter GmbH (Augsburg), work in two shifts and daily build up to 50 industrial robots which are then shipped throughout the world. The orange machines are then used for tasks such as welding, handling, assembly, machining, packaging and machine linking, and for the application of adhesives and sealants. KUKA robots are at home in (almost) all branches of industry: logistics, foodstuffs, testing, foundries and entertainment. They are meanwhile sought-after film stars and have featured in action films alongside James Bond, or with Lara Croft in “Tomb Raider”. Then there is the “Robocoaster” – the first robot with a license to carry passengers – which is in great demand with amusement parks worldwide.

The objectives for the new production shop, at the heart of the shared KUKA Schweissanlagen and KUKA Roboter plant in Lechhausen, were clear: to ensure an extremely flexible and rapid production flow with the best possible quality. A number of innovations are involved in the practical implementation of these goals: for the first time ever, robots have been used in the manufacture of other robots. They carry out arc welding on the counterbalancing system. For wrist assembly, the robot is fitted with a visualization camera. After the camera has focused on the individual parts, the robot picks them up using various grippers and aids its human colleague with final assembly. Ultramodern measurement stations have been set up, in which laser camera systems ensure the absolute accuracy of the robot, down to hundredths of a millimeter. Further optimization of the materials flow posed a logistical challenge. Each robot type (eight product families in total) now has its own assembly area. Up to 60 tonnes of materials are processed with ease.

The new test stands – where the robots are given a final check-up before delivery – are also packed with state-of-the-art technology. Automation of the test programs has resulted in shorter cycle times and increased productivity. Indeed, the new manufacturing line has significantly shortened the individual processes involved in the manufacture of a robot. Environmental protection is also a major concern. Take the paintwork as an example: switching to a two-component paint meant that it was possible to reduce the amount of solvent used by more than half – well within legal limits.

With the new production shop, KUKA ProTec GmbH, which is responsible for robot production, and which derived in part from the former KUKA Industrietechnik (KUKA IT), has achieved a major target: high production speed with maximum accuracy, supreme quality and utmost flexibility. It is now possible, for example, to take customer requests for modifications into consideration as late as three weeks before delivery.