Cooperation between robots and humans
Following the Vrchlabí plant, Component Production in Mladá Boleslav is the next shop floor where a cooperative robot is assisting employees
new co-worker has joined the assembly line for EA 211 engines in the main production plant. It is a cooperative robot made by KUKA to pick up cooling nozzles and place them in the mounting jigs. An employee in that section then puts them in a semi-automatic workstation where the nozzles are tightened. The robot helps out in the section that was not fully occupied by a worker before. Instead of two people, a robot and a human work together now. “Previously, a worker had to remove the nozzles from the plastic sheets and place them in the holder; now it will be handled by the robot, with the employee taking the nozzles in the holder from the robot”, is how Pavel Vocásek from PKM/2 – EA 211 Engine Assembly describes the work procedure, adding that, at their workstation, the worker primarily inserts the big end bearings into the engine block. Handling the nozzles was the second task for which the employee had to quickly switch between the two sections. Now the robot makes the whole process much easier.
Together side by side
Cooperation in the section runs just as if two people were working there. The cooperative robot is designed in such a way that it does not have to be placed in a protected area, such as a cage, as with many other machines. Therefore, it meets the strict safety requirements. “Cooperative robots have been around for several years, but safety has further improved. Compared with similar solutions that are a few years old, our new assistant can scan the workplace better, and its reactions are much finer and more precise”, Vocásek explains. The cooperative robot on the engine assembly line is the first of its kind in Mladá Boleslav, and the carmaker has deployed it here as part of the Automation Offensive programme. It is already the third assistant of its type in ŠKODA AUTO’s Czech plants. One works in gearbox assembly in Vrchlabí, and the other is utilised by Production in the cylinder head machining section (to save space for an otherwise mandatory cage for a standard robot).
According to Vocásek, investments in the seemingly tiny equipment are high. “A cooperative robot costs more than a standard model. However, these investments will pay off quickly”, he adds. The innovation’s deployment was quite non-standard. “Cooperative robots have certain limitations in what they can do during one takt. We have a takt time of 25 seconds on that section, and it was quite demanding to tune up the robot so that it can manage everything in time and ensure safety at 100 percent”, he explains, adding that more modern and sensitive technology made it possible for the robot to stop safely when needed (in the event of a collision with a human, for example), even during unusually fast work. So the whole optimisation took relatively more time, though it took place mainly at the supplier. “After being delivered to the line, the machine was quickly installed, and the robot was running at full capacity within 14 days”, Vocásek says. In his opinion, everything was made easier thanks to an important attribute of cooperative robots: It is easier to programme them to do a task. Luděk Vokáč