Arrival of cobots prompts fiesta for Ford engineers

Posted on 26 Sep 2019 by Jonny Williamson

For the first time, Ford has introduced a team of collaborative robots that works alongside human engineers to ensure every Ford Fiesta has a perfect finish.

The six collaborative robots – or cobots – complete a choreographed sequence to sand each vehicle’s entire body surface in just 35 seconds.

Rather than replacing employees at Ford’s plant in Cologne, Germany, the cobots are allowing operators to focus their time on more complex, higher-value tasks, and avoid suffering the strains associated with performing repetitive tasks.

Each cobot is a UR10, supplied from Universal Robots, the same model that is also used in the audio equipment industry to polish high‑performance loudspeakers and subwoofers.

In the Ford paint shop, they feature a 3D-printed soft flexible layer between the robotic arm and the sandpaper that enables the cobot to work with the same precision and dexterity as a human hand.

As Dennis Kuhn, senior manufacturing engineer, Paint Shop, Ford of Europe, explains: “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.”

During the production process, each Fiesta is submerged in a special bath to provide 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.

Ford Fiesta Choreographs Assembly Line Collaborative Robots Cobots - image courtesy of Ford.

 – image courtesy of Ford.

The six cobots step in to 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.

For loudspeakers and audio equipment production with mostly flat surfaces, only one cobot is required. Introducing the technology on a moving production line for a multi-contoured vehicle required a new approach.

It reportedly took several weeks to install the cobots and programme them to move in unison with each other, a task made significantly more challenging because the vehicle never stops moving.

Ford is said to be reviewing further rollout of the cobots at it’s facilities in Valencia, Spain, and Craiova, Romania.

The company has 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; and has also introduced a self-driving robot called “Survival”.