KUKA LBR iiwa cobot applies sealants at Ford

Flexible, sensitive and able to learn: the employees at the Ford plant in Cologne are reaping the benefits of the KUKA LBR iiwa lightweight robot. The new robot assistants apply sealants in body-in-white production, working side by side with human workers and providing relief in the work process, without the need for any safety fencing.

“The feedback on the new colleagues has been resoundingly positive”, says Michael Koch, Production Engineer at Ford-Werke GmbH. Where workers previously applied the sealant seam, four lightweight robots from automation company KUKA have now been performing this dirty and monotonous work step since November 2017. Their integration into the existing production line went smoothly. Safety fences or additional safety components are not required.

Human and cobot: a merging of workspaces

Human and cobots work hand in hand. A scenario that would have been utterly unthinkable a few years ago can now be implemented. In this way, many monotonous tasks that are burdensome to humans can be automated using a robot. So-called human-robot collaboration (HRC) is increasingly finding its way into production shops. The robot assistants are not yet part of the typical body-in-white production setup. The industry is currently undergoing a major change. Companies that wish to remain competitive must not only push ahead with digitalization, but must also automate and improve their production processes.

HRC solutions are becoming an integral part of smart factories.

Tuncay Maris, KUKA Key Account Manager

Flexible cobots lend a helping hand to Ford employees

Applying a sealant seam is a monotonous, repetitive, dirty work step that is strenuous for humans. At the Ford plant in Cologne, four LBR iiwa lightweight robots from KUKA now relieve the workers. The robots apply the defined amount of sealant at exactly the same position every time. This ensures a high degree of leak-tightness of the vehicle body and prevents the need for reworking the paint. “The robot works precisely. From the first sealant seam to the last”, confirms Michael Koch, Production Engineer at Ford-Werke GmbH. 

KUKA LBR iiwa cobot applies sealants to the vehicle body

The use of cobots brings advantages for body-in-white production

Excess adhesive is not a problem here. A further advantage of the new robot assistants is the simple programming by means of manual guidance. The operator guides the LBR iiwa through the motion to be executed just once. The smart cobot learns the exact motion sequence, which it can then execute independently. This makes it flexible and quickly deployable. It is also space-saving, which is of decisive importance due to the restricted space available in the Ford production shop. Additional protective measures that take up space are not necessary, as the robot’s sensitive characteristics enable it to recognize obstacles. In the case of excessively strong contact or a possible collision with a human hand, it immediately interrupts the process and stops. “Our employees can now focus on a fluid work sequence”, says Ford Production Engineer Michael Koch.

The human and cobot share the production steps in a fast-paced work environment, ensuring enormous relief of our workforce.

Michael Koch, Production Engineer at Ford

Supporting humans and making production more efficient

Human-robot collaboration is also conceivable for further work steps, for example in quality control. “We are always working on new solutions to make production more efficient and relieve human workers”, emphasizes Otmar Honsberg, Head of the KUKA Application Engineering Team. For example, we have undertaken initial trials at the Ford plant in Saarlouis for the automatic calibration of gap and flush-mounting on doors and fenders using the KUKA LBR iiwa in an HRC assembly line.

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