Assembly line robots that are programmed to build cars by placing parts in exactly the same place every time are no longer tech cool. You know what is tech cool? Assembly line robots with laser eyes that can see where parts need to go, adjust themselves to even the slightest variations in positioning, and custom fit each placement.
An army of these new “seeing” robots has been installed at Ford’s Louisville Assembly Plant to install Instrument panels, windshields, roofs and fenders on the all-new Ford Escape, and they can adjust to any variations in positioning as each Escape rolls across the line to be fitted with its parts.
The machines are programmed to recognize any tiny deviation from specification such as gaps between door panels or between the windshield and the vehicle body.
“The ability of the machines to register any difference in each vehicle on the line improves our quality by providing a custom-like build,” said Thomas Burns, an engineer who works with the technology for the Escape. This results in things like door panels that fit tighter, reducing wind noise inside the cabin.
These new robots not only improve accuracy and deliver higher standards of build quality, but they save us humans from physical strain and injury due to repetitive motion. According to Marty Smets, an ergonomics engineer, “We also have a variety of semi-autonomous robots, which do tasks that aren’t safe for humans to do repetitively.”
A robot like the Instrumentation Panel Robot (that, not surprisingly, installs the instrumentation panel), performs a task that isn’t safe for humans to do repetitively, while also improving the build quality and maximizing gap seals for that part.
In the paint shop, 88 new robots reduce energy costs by more efficiently applying paint and sealer inside the body and to the exterior of the vehicle. Keeping humans out of the zones where the paint is applied reduces airflow and climate control requirements thereby saving energy and reducing carbon emissions.
Ford has more than 700 robots at the Louisville Assembly Plant assisting in the build of the body and interior of the all-new Escape. And as they begin to “see” and decide where to place parts, how long before humans are no longer needed on the line at all?
Not that I want anyone to lose their job, but I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.