• Ford is among the first automakers to develop a new, closely integrated approach to car workers and robots working together on the assembly line
  • Workers use collaborative robots, known as co-bots, to help fit shock absorbers to Fiesta cars in Cologne, Germany, to ensure perfect fit and to avoid workers having to access hard-to-reach places
  • Robots use hi-tech sensors to detect when hands or fingers are in their path and stop immediately, ensuring worker safety
  • Ford is reviewing further use of collaborative robots, which can be programmed to do anything from making a coffee to shaking hands, and are used in pharmaceutical and electronics industries
C-bot assists line worker with Fiesta suspension strut installation

C-bot assists line worker with Fiesta suspension strut installation

New collaborative robots – or co-bots – are being used to help Ford workers in Germany fit shock absorbers to Fiesta cars, a task that requires pinpoint accuracy, strength and dexterity. Employees work hand-in-hand with the robots to ensure a perfect fit.

The trial at the assembly plant in Cologne, Germany, is part of the company's investigations into Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution embracing automation, data exchange and manufacturing technologies. The automaker asked over 1,000 production line workers to identify tasks for which the new robots would best be suited.

"Robots are helping make tasks easier, safer and quicker, complementing our employees with abilities that open up unlimited worlds of production and design for new models," said Karl Anton, director vehicle operations, Ford of Europe.

Measuring a metre high, the robots work hand-in-hand with the line workers at two work stations. Rather than manipulate a heavy shock absorber and installation tool, workers can now use the robot to lift and automatically position the shock absorber into the wheel arch, before pushing a button to complete installation.

"Working overhead with heavy air-powered tools is a tough job that requires strength, stamina, and accuracy. The robot is a real help," said Ngali Bongongo, a Cologne production worker.

Equipped with hi-tech sensors, the co-bots stop immediately if they detect an arm or even a finger in their path to ensure worker safety. Similar technology is used in the pharmaceutical and electronics industries. Developed over two years, the robot programme was carried out in close partnership with German robot manufacturer, KUKA Roboter GmbH.

Ford is now reviewing further use of collaborative robots that can be programmed to perform tasks ranging from shaking hands to making a coffee.

"We are proud to show the capabilities of our new generation of sensitive robots that are supporting and collaborating with auto workers by carrying out ergonomically difficult and technically challenging tasks," said Klaus Link, key account manager Ford, KUKA Roboter.

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