- Robots relieve the burden on employees in the case of unergonomic work
- Human-machine interaction in production
WOLFSBURG, 02-Jun-2016 — /EuropaWire/ — At the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, people and robots are to work hand-in-hand in the future. With immediate effect, human-machine interaction (HMI) is to be put into practice for the first time in the production of the Golf. In the pre-assembly of powertrains, the fitting of individual powertrain components to produce an engine that is ready for installation, human employees are to receive the support of a robot.
“Employees benefit from the assistance of a robot for work in poor ergonomic conditions and strenuous routine tasks. The processes involved are controlled and monitored by people. This means that we can combine the strengths of employees and robots in an ideal way at the same time as reducing production times,” André Kleb, Head of Plant Planning at the Wolfsburg plant, explains.
While employees bolt the starter motor, robots work on the same powertrain in the immediate vicinity. The robot relieves the burden on the employee by tightening the bolts of the pendulum mount. This is a component installed below the powertrain which prevents the engine from swinging following load changes. It is attached to the subframe and located in an inaccessible position for production line employees. In contrast to previous practice, people and robots are not separated by a fence. This change has been made possible by the use of force sensors on the robot to detect any contact or the application of force. The motion of the robot is simply frozen if it comes into unintentional contact with an employee.
“The bolting of the pendulum mount in powertrain pre-assembly is the first HMI application to be implemented at a Volkswagen brand assembly plant,” says Dr. Martin Goede, Head of Technology Planning and Development of the Volkswagen brand. “The continuing development of robotics increasingly means that people and robots can work beside each other and together with each other within a very small area. Especially with respect to bolting, we see considerable potential for relieving the physical burden on employees,” Goede added.
Works Council member Uwe Schmidt: “The use of a robot is already beneficial from the ergonomic point of view. In future, colleagues will no longer need to tighten bolts in contorted positions. However, the project is also important for another reason. Here, on assembly line 2 in Hall 54, we already have a glimpse of the factory of the future. Where conditions are right, it will soon be normal practice for people to work efficiently side-by-side with robots.”
Prior to use in production, the HMI application was tested for three months at the Competence Center for Technology and Innovation at the Wolfsburg plant and prepared for introduction under near-production conditions. For the entire period, the project was observed and finally approved by Health and Safety. “This test phase in the competence center made it possible to integrate the HMI application into the production line during a long weekend. Formerly, this was only possible during works holidays,” Kleb added.
At the competence center, maintenance employees received special training from the Volkswagen Group Academy and Kuka, the manufacturer of the HMI robot. Powertrain pre-assembly employees were introduced to the project and the technology during team meetings.
Ewald Nasarek, foreman in the powertrain pre-assembly unit, said: “My team and I are proud to work with the first HMI application at the plant. The application was integrated into production without any problems. Thanks to the training sessions held in advance, team members did not feel any anxiety about the new technology.”