Cobot: A helping hand at MINI Plant Oxford

At MINI Plant Oxford, where 1,000 built-to-order cars are manufactured each day, a ‘Riveting, Innovation Technology in Assembly’ (RITA) cobot was introduced in April 2017.

Cobot - RITA on the MINI Plant Oxford production line, helping to assemble components for the car’s crumple zone pre-assembly - image courtesy of BMW Group MINI.
RITA on the MINI Plant Oxford production line, helping to assemble components for the car’s crumple zone pre-assembly – image courtesy of BMW Group MINI.

Working alongside and in parallel with a human operative, the RITA cobot rivets together three components for the car’s crumple zone pre-assembly.

Previously, the riveting process was done manually. This meant that operators were using a tool weighing about 2kg and performing the same task around 350 times per shift – more than a thousand times in a 24-hour period.

Manually locating the tool nozzle by hand was also not an efficient and ergonomic task.

With RITA installed, the plant is now able to streamline this process and has brought the cycle time down by 12 seconds.

This enables the factory to build more pre-assemblies more efficiently. It also gives the flexibility to use the time saved to make better use of the operator’s own time to perform other value-added tasks on the assembly line.

More recently, the plant has installed similar cobot technology on its rear axle line.

Again, paying close attention to lean production principles, this application uses a dual spindle tool to apply fixings to the car’s anti-roll bar.

Gunther Boehner, director of assenbly, MINI Oxford - image courtesy of Matt Pulzer.
Gunther Boehner, director of assenbly, MINI Oxford – image courtesy of Matt Pulzer.

Currently, this is saving a total of 17 seconds in process time – again freeing up associates to perform more valuable tasks.

What is unique about these applications is that the human has overall control of the cobot. The human decides when the cobot starts and can intervene if necessary should a problem in the process arise.

And, if there is a problem, the human can push the cobot away and tell it to start again when the issue is solved.

Gunther Boehner, Director of Assembly at MINI Plant Oxford, says: “We have two clear objectives here at MINI – producing a high-quality product for customers and providing the best working environment for our associates.

“This application of cobot technology serves both of those purposes and shows that humans and robots can work together safely and effectively.”


The MINI plant in Oxford is a fascinating mix of labour-intensive assembly line and robot-dominated bodyshop. It is a BMW-owned factory in an era of Brexit, Industry 4.0 and skills shortages.

The Manufacturer recently sat down with Gunther Boehner, director of assembly at the MINI Oxford plant in Cowley to discuss the new electric MINI and issues facing the wider British automotive sector. You can read the article here.

Get insights like this delivered straight to your inbox

5 Digital Briefings | 5 Front-of-Mind Topics | 5 Days a Week

  • Monday: Manufacturing Innovation
  • Tuesday: Manufacturing Leadership
  • Wednesday: Digital Transformation
  • Thursday: Industrial Automation
  • Friday: Industrial Internet

Sign up for free here.