Ford has long used robots to make its automobiles. Ford is now using collaborative robots at a factory in Cologne, Germany to ensure every Ford Fiesta has a perfect finish. The six cobots, all UR10s from Universal Robots, complete a choreographed sequence to sand the entire body surface in just 35 seconds.
During the production process, each Ford Fiesta is submerged in a special bath to provide more than ten years of corrosion protection. Afterwards, small flecks can remain on the surface, unseen to the naked eye, but that can be felt by hand and could impact the final finish of the vehicle.
The six UR10 cobots smooth away these inconsistencies and vacuum any dust left behind. Final checks are completed by two employees before the vehicle body moves along the line for the primer application.
Ford is adamant the cobots are not replacing employees, but allowing them to use their time for more complex tasks and avoid suffering strains associated with performing repetitive tasks.
“The cobots can feel when more force needs to be applied, just like we can, and they can more easily get to hard-to-reach places, like the centre of the roof,” said Dennis Kuhn, senior manufacturing engineer, Paint Shop, Ford of Europe.
Introducing the technology on a moving production line for a multi-contoured vehicle required a new approach.
“It took several weeks to install the cobots and program them to move in harmony to smooth the unique contours of a Ford Fiesta, a task made all the more difficult because the vehicle never stops moving,” said Detlev Dahl, CEO, Dahl Automation. “But that’s where the adaptability of the cobots and our vast experience as one of the first Universal Robots certified system integrators came to the fore. With the moves mastered, they never miss a beat.”
Case Study at a Glance
|Location: Cologne, Germany|
|Industry: Automotive manufacturing|
|Challenge: Finely sanding surface of Ford Fiesta|
|Partner: Universal Robots|
|Robots: Six UR10 cobots|
|Task: Sanding body of Ford Fiestas|
|Results: Ensuring product quality, reducing worker strain|
Ford also recently introduced autonomous mobiles robots (AMRs) from Mobile Industrial Robots to its facility in Almussafes-Valencia, Spain. Ford Spain makes 2,000 vehicles per day in its Valencia plant, and the AMRs deliver spare parts to different areas of the facility. This helped optimize its internal logistics and increase overall productivity.
Ford is reviewing further rollout of the cobots at other facilities, too. Ford already introduced other cobots that have been programmed to assist production line workers with complex assembly procedures, such as fitting shock absorbers to cars and spark plugs to engines.