For more than 50 years, the automotive industry has been using robots in their assembly lines for a variety of manufacturing processes. Today, automakers are exploring the use of robotics in even more processes. Robots are more efficient, accurate, flexible, and dependable on these production lines. This technology has allowed the automotive industry to remain one of the most automated supply chains globally, and one of the largest users of robots.
With thousands of wires and parts in every vehicle, it takes a complex manufacturing process to get components to where they need to be. Here are several robotic applications that are crucial to an efficient assembly line:
1) Robotic Vision
A light industrial robotic arm with “eyes” can do more precise work because it can “see” what it’s doing. The robot wrist carries the laser and camera array that gives the machine instant feedback. Robots can now perform proper offsetting when installing a part, because they know where it goes. Installation of door panels, windshields, and fenders are more accurate with robotic vision than regular robot arms.
2) Spot and arc welding
Large industrial robots with long arms and higher payload capabilities handle spot welding on heavy body panels. Smaller robots weld lighter parts such as mounts and brackets. Robotic tungsten inert gas (TIG) and metal inert gas (MIG) welders can position the torch in the exact same orientation on every cycle. Preserving high welding standards in every fabrication is doable due to the repeatable arc and speed gap.
Collaborative robots work together with other large industrial robots on massive assembly lines. Robotic welders and handlers must collaborate to keep the assembly line moving. Robot handlers need to place panels at the precise location so the welding robot can perform all the programmed welds.
In most automotive manufacturing plants, light robotic arms assemble smaller parts such as motors and pumps at high speed. Other tasks, such as screw driving, wheel mounting, and windshield installation, are all done by robot arms.
4) Painting, sealing and coating
An automotive painter’s job is not easy, and it’s very toxic to boot. Labor shortages are also making it harder to find skilled, professional painters.
Robotic arms can fill in the void because the job entails consistency for each coat of paint. Robots can follow a programmed path, consistently covering large areas and limiting waste. Machines are also useful for spraying adhesives, sealants, and primers.
5) Machine tending and part transfer
Transferring metal stamps, loading and unloading CNC machines, and pouring molten metal in a foundry is dangerous for human workers. This type of work is perfect for large industrial robots. Machine tending and loading/unloading tasks are also being done by smaller cobots for smaller manufacturing operations.
6) Materials removal
Robots can follow a complex path multiple times without failing, making it the perfect tool for cutting and trimming jobs. Light robots with force-sensing technology are better-suited to this type of work. Tasks include trimming flash from plastic moldings, polishing molds, and cutting fabric.
7) Internal logistics
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and other automated vehicles, such as forklifts, can be used in a factory setting to move raw materials and other parts from storage areas to the factory floor. In Spain, for example, the Ford Motor Co. recently adopted AMRs from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) to deliver industrial and welding materials to various robot stations on the factory floor, replacing a manual process.
More accessible today
The automotive industry’s parts manufacturing and assembly operations are some of the most significant users of robotic applications. Programming and deploying a robot workforce today is more accessible than it was a decade ago, and assembly lines have been more efficient ever since. The use of robots is not a knock on human workers, who are still needed for the final touches and quality control.
These are but a few of the myriad of robotic applications used in auto manufacturing today. There are several projects in the pipeline that aim to enhance reliability, security, and productivity. The outcome of these projects will be faster delivery times and reduced prices.