Robots in automotive industry are used for quite a long time already. They perform different tasks in assembly lines and make car manufacturing process more precise and cheaper. But now Audi at its main plant in Ingolstadt is taking new approach to human-robot cooperation and is aiming to achieve ergonomic improvements for their employees in final assembly lines.
This new approach is based on a new kind of robot that is supposed to work hand in hand with its human colleagues. This means that robot is ideally adapted to the employees’ working cycles and no safety barriers are necessary. According to Dr. Hubert Waltl, Board of Management Member for Production at AUDI AG, new improvements do not mean that in the future Audi factories will do without people at all, but instead it will increase cooperation between man and robot and will help to optimize ergonomically unfavourable workplaces.
Principles of this new human-robot cooperation are rather simple. New robot, known among local employees as “PART4you”, is intended to pick up various components from the boxes and to pass them to the assembly workers in ergonomically preferable position. Until now workers had to bend over and to pick components from the boxes themselves and, even though these components are not particularly heavy, the sheer amount of needed repetitions may lead to serious back problems. Ergonomics was the main priority of the project.
“PART4you” has a camera and an integrated suction cup to pick up needed components. It adapts itself to the speed of its human colleague and not the other way around. And no safety barriers are needed – robot is equipped with integrated safety sensors and is covered with a soft protective skin.
Even though it is the first human-robot cooperation at the Volkswagen Group to be applied in the final assembly, robots had been used to assist workers in body shop operations before, but they were not optimised to match the speed of the worker and could only apply adhesive to body parts. Bending and lifting different components was still a work of a real person.
Now, system is used at assembly lines of the A4, A5 and Q5 models, but seeing that this technology helps to achieve greater efficiency and ergonomics in the workplace Audi is planning further applications of human-robot cooperation in other areas and in other factories as well. Robot-human cooperation is considered to be key element of the Audi factory of the future.