Cobots get a feel for smooth surfaces at Ford plant

This week’s video comes from Cologne, Germany where six collaborative robots – or cobots – are working alongside humans in the production of Ford Fiestas.

According to Ford, this foray into cobot-human interaction on the production line will free human operatives to perform more complex tasks.

The UR10 cobots from Universal Robots can sand the entire body surface of each vehicle in 35 seconds. They are helped by 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.

“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,” said Dennis Kuhn, senior manufacturing engineer, Paint Shop, Ford of Europe.

Ford choreographs robots to help people – and each other (Image: Ford Motor Company)

Ford added that during the production process, each Fiesta is submerged in a special bath to provide over a decade of corrosion protection. 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.

“It took several weeks to install the cobots and program them to move in harmony to smooth the unique contours of a Ford Fiesta, a task made all the more difficult because the vehicle never stops moving,” said Detlev Dahl, CEO, Dahl Automation.

Ford said it is considering further cobot rollout at 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, such as fitting shock absorbers to cars and spark plugs to engines.

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