Cobots is the nickname given to robots who build cars on an automatic assembly line (short for collaboration robots). These robots cost from $50,000 to $80,000 but the big expense with this type of machinery is maintenance and repair.
The reason for using robots isn’t as obvious as you might think. It’s not necessarily about robotic precision and speed—humans are able to work as fast as accurate in most cases. It’s actually about the danger to humans from repetitive stress. A human the same motion over and over can build up an injury.
Humans also get bored doing the same thing over and over, which can lead to accidents that harm themselves or others or create a potential defect in the vehicle. When a robot does something wrong it does it every time which means when you discover the problem you can go back and fix them all. It’s expensive but imagine having random errors on random units and trying to find all of those.
Finally, certain chemicals that are used are harmful to humans. Paint for example. If a robot paints a car it can essentially move via conveyer belt to the next part of the process. In the distant past of the assembly line someone ran the risk of spraying the car, then the car sat until dry before moving to the next process.
The tasks are supervised by a computer program. The science of performing individual tasks depends on both geometry and timing. The program tells each robot where each part should be placed, how to rotate, where to weld, etc. It also supervises the rotating of parts and moving of the cars.
The first waves of assembly robots were all in cages, no doubt to protect human workers. Now there are fewer humans working in close proximity to the machines, so the robots seem to roam free. Most of them are based in one place but they give the appearance of being free compared to their predecessors.
The first part of the car to be constructed is the floor. This is done through pressing steel. Next light robotic arms do tasks as diverse as screwdriving, wheel mounting and installing the windshield.
The arms use a combo of lasers and cameras so the item can be offset properly. Tasks such as welding require robots with longer arms. To perform the task properly every time the arms work along the same arc for an entire pass.
The robots need to work together. If the panels aren’t in the right place they can’t weld together properly. Some jobs are more complicated than others; windshield placing requires several vacuum powered functioned grips for example.
Other things you may not know about Cobots:
What people may not know is that robots also tend to other machines in the factory, for example automatic forklifts load and unload items.
Quality control is still performed by the human workforce.
Another thing people may not know is, like humans, robots tend to work on shifts. A robot can work for two or three shift operations until it needs to be replaced by another robot. Engineers are always looking for more accurate ways to the building of their vehicles.
As late as 2005 90% of all robots were found in car factories. Automating the process is about increasing the safety, quality and productivity. In the same way that conveyor belts were first used in the car industry robots have taken over auto factories.
As well as the co-bots many factories “employ” drones to check vital parts of the factory, such as delivery pipes. It saves humans from climbing around to check remote locations.
There is no end to a robots uses in a car factory. There were even reports that robots were making the coffee in one Ford plant – hardly the most dangerous job in the world, so maybe it was a PR stunt. Still, it shows their versatility.