FITTERS ON THE PRODUCTION LINE
FROM MANUAL DRIVE TO ROBOTS
During the first 25 years of L&K, motorcycles and cars were manufactured in a workshop where each employee had a number of tasks. The launch of production lines 90 years ago led to major changes in their work.
In 1910, about 1,000 workers made a total of fewer than 300 cars – not in an hour, a day, a week or a month but in an entire year! In the second half of the 1930s, one employee accounted for about one complete car per year. In 1970, seven ŠKODA 100 models were sent out into the world for each worker. And last year, the annual share was a whopping 30 cars!
The modern line required a narrow specialisation of its assembly workers (1929)
Václav Laurin and Václav Klement began in 1895 with two workers and one apprentice in a modest workshop, equipped only with simple, human-powered devices. After only a few months, a steam engine took over a substantial part of the hard work, and later the company also ran its own hydroelectric power plants. Electric motors usually powered several machines at once using long leather belts (line shafts) spun by a shaft under the workshop’s ceiling. Woe to anyone who got too close to the whizzing belt! Hard physical work was the name of the game, with employees pushing unfinished cars on their own from one workplace to another. At that time, almost everything was produced in the plant in Mladá Boleslav, including electrical installations, carburettors, wheels and seats – tyres were an exception. However, it was a very inefficient process, so the number of components from external suppliers started to increase. Some jobs disappeared from the factory, but several new job opportunities were created.
The “coupling” of a chassis with backbone frame and a body with timbering (1936)
Assembly of the ŠKODA 100, successor to the “MB model” (1970)
A bet on specialisation
In September 1925, Laurin & Klement merged with Škoda, the mechanical engineering and arms holding manufacturer from Pilsen. This allowed huge funds to be invested in Mladá Boleslav and made it possible to build a modern part of the factory. Little did anyone know that shortly after the launch in 1929, a global economic crisis would strike, but unlike many other famous brands, the company would avoid bankruptcy thanks to prudent preparation. In fact, the winged arrow came out of the crisis strengthened and was hiring new employees!
Assembly of the drive chain in the self-supporting body of the facelifted FELICIA model (1998)
Assembly digitisation (dProduction) in the Kvasiny plant provides employees with a perfect overview of the demanding process (2019)
The sharing of standardised components helped the company to reach success. The new factory found use for precise and fast American machine tools.
The attention of experts was primarily attracted by the process of cylinder head machining, intentionally divided into 47 operations. The assembly of the chassis was also unusual: The frame lay “on its back” on the belt (because of easier assembly of leaf springs) and was turned only after the lower part had been assembled. The line, however, did not do without a narrow specialisation of employees. For example, some were responsible only for tightening a few specific screws – many times a day, with more and more skill.
The plant’s production capacity with a total area of 215,700 m2 and 4,278 employees in 1929 was initially 20 cars per eight-hour shift. After the introduction of the three-shift operation, this figure increased to 85 cars a day.
Hard work for the machines!
Precise and reliable robots have been working in the company since the 1980s. Today, the 1,410-metre-long production line in Hall M13 is one of the most modern ones. It was designed for the OCTAVIA and KAROQ models, and over 1,300 cars can be produced every day.
Conveyor belt production brought the risk of monotonous work and, thus, unilateral strain. Today, these negative effects on employees can be effectively eliminated. Flexibility and a number of ergonomic solutions help. When it comes to ergonomics, the carmaker emphasises prevention. For more demanding activities, it has introduced handling devices into the production process, which makes it easier to work with larger parts, such as wheels or dashboards. Employees are also trained in multiple activities and take turns in the team on a regular basis to avoid stereotyping.
The future belongs to cooperating robots, which help ŠKODA AUTO employees with tasks that are physically demanding or require extremely high accuracy. The transport robot in the Vrchlabí plant is a quick learner: It is enough for a worker to travel a specified route with it only once for it to find the shortest and safest route by itself.
In Kvasiny, they were the first to introduce the digitisation of the entire assembly process in the form of dProduction – text instructions, as well as 3D images and video guides – so that employees have a perfect overview, thanks to touch screens, of everything they need to know. The result is saved time and reduced risks of stress, errors and injuries for the employees at work. The combination of the irreplaceable skilled manpower and the modern technology is, in short, still the most efficient way of producing cars.
PF2-M/1 – VEHICLE PRODUCTION MB II – FABIA
“My career at ŠKODA AUTO shows how possibilities in the development and career growth of employees have expanded. I started to assemble power units and later was retrained to become a car mechanic. Such a change wasn’t usual during my grandfather’s time. Thanks to additional training, I could work on the roll-in rollers, and today I work in vehicle engineering fitting on the remanufacturing line. I enjoy the variety in my work. However, my responsibility is great. I can’t miss any defects. My activity is not followed by any regular check that would reveal imperfections. Fortunately, various detailed instructions and procedures help me with what I do. For example, when fitting grouped lamps, they help me to understand in what order I should tighten each screw during the disassembly and the subsequent reassembly. Unlike in years past, assembly work is also facilitated by various handling devices or controlled torque drivers.”