Manufacturing motor vehicles, precision and accuracy are of upmost importance to Ford. Cobots can be programmed to exact measurements, making meeting production requirements like torque a simple task, as a result four UR3 Cobots have been deployed at the manufacturers plants to assist them with the bolt fixing process. With just one plant manufacturing approximately three thousand engines a day this process was highly repetitive and due to the increasing concern of RSI, a Cobot application was perfect as the risk of RSI would be dramatically diminished after integration.
Speaking to Phil Moreton, Lead Engineer in Emerging Technologies at Ford, the sole purpose of the Cobots was to improve the jobs of their workers by reducing the labour-intensive tasks.
With this in mind the focal point of the projects was to create solutions which improved the working environment for operators whilst reducing cycle time as a means of justifying ROI. To achieve this the solutions needed to be as self-sufficient as possible due to the highly repetitive nature of the tasks.
The original process for project 1 saw operators manually placing and hand starting 8 bolts, with a rough cycle time of 22-28 seconds dependant on the operator and which engine was being processed. The integration of a Cobot would allow for both the placement and fixing of bolts, reducing the time spent on this process and providing a consistent and measurable cycle time.
Two UR3 Cobots were deployed to assist in the bolt fixing of their petrol engine production line – UR3’s were used as their ability to work in tandem with precision and speed made them ideal for the challenges of this project. The Cobot arms were fitted to one of Reeco’s custom robot bases (RB-850) which are manufactured bespoke for each project, acting as a stable platform for the Cobot whilst housing all the electrical components and hardware required for the project. The internal hardware of the RB-850 was customised to suit the application with a purpose-built electrical panel allowing the station to communicate with the rest of the production line for full integration. The robot base also acts as a table top for any further equipment required, for this project the table top is home to two bespoke bolt feeders (Cobolt feeder) which are capable of supplying the UR3’s with bolts, making the system self-sufficient. The Cobolt system was manufactured to replace the bowl feeders and stepper feeders to utilise the Cobots down time when new parts are being delivered to the Cobot. The UR3’s are fitted with electromagnets capable of picking up bolts from a KLT box and placing them into the funnel of the Cobolt system. The Cobolt is fitted with an electro-vibrating motor which funnels the bolts into the correct orientation ready to be picked by the Cobot. The KLT box holds over 3000 bolts and does not stop production when being refilled, allowing the system to operate indefinitely providing bolts are replenished.