Man and machine work hand-in-hand as Ford applies Industry 4.0 automation

Ford Motor Company is conducting a trial at its assembly plant in Cologne, Germany where KUKA Robotics' collaborative robots - or co-bots - are being used to help workers fit shock absorbers to Fiesta cars, a task that requires pinpoint accuracy, strength and dexterity.

The trial is part of the Ford’s investigations into Industry 4.0 – embracing automation, data exchange and manufacturing technologies. The company sought feedback from more than 1,000 production line workers to identify tasks for which the new robots would best be suited.

Karl Anton, director vehicle operations, Ford of Europe, said: “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 Ford models.”

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 production worker at Ford’s Cologne plant.

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.

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

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