Robots join Ford production line

Robots are now working alongside engineers at Ford’s Cologne plant. A team of collaborative robots (cobots) complete a choreographed sequence to sand the entire body surface of a Ford Fiesta in just 35 seconds.

Ford insists the initiative does not replace employees but allows operators to use their time on more complex tasks and avoid suffering the strains associated with performing repetitive tasks.

Dennis Kuhn, senior manufacturing engineer, Paint Shop, Ford of Europe, said, ‘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.’

Each cobot is a UR10 from Universal Robots. 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.

During the production process, each Fiesta is submerged in a special bath to provide more than 10 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 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.

Ford is reviewing further rollout of the cobots at the company’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.

The video is available here: