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Unguarded robot operates alongside VW workers

31 August, 2013

For the first time, Volkswagen has installed an industrial robot to work alongside humans in an engine production plant in Germany without any form of protective barrier between the robot arm and the human workers.

The lightweight arm is being used to insert glow plugs into cylinder heads at VW’s engine production plant in Salzgitter.

The six-axis robotic arm, supplied by the Danish robot-maker Universal Robots, has a built in safety mode (that complies with EN ISO 10218), allowing it to work safely with people without needing any mechanical guards.

The installation was implemented over a two-year period in collaboration with a German systems integrator, Faude Automatisierungstechnik, which has developed a gripper that meets the safety requirements of ISO/TS 15066 ­– a standard that covers collaboration with robots and contains limits for impact forces and pressures that could cause injuries.

Previously, employees working on the engine production line had to stoop to insert the glow plugs into barely visible cylinder head drill holes.

Now, the lightweight UR5 robot picks up the delicate glow plugs, which are provided by a special separation system, and places them into the hard-to-reach drill holes. An employee then fixes the glow plugs in place and insulates the cylinder head, in preparation for the next production step.

Fellow workers: the unprotected robot operates next to human workers on the VW engine line

The robot acts as an assistant, allowing the human workers to carry out their activities in a healthy upright posture. They keep a constant watch over the process, and can intervene quickly if necessary.

“We would like to prevent long-term burdens on our employees in all areas of our company with an ergonomic workplace layout,” explains Jürgen Häfner, project manager at the VW plant. “By using robots without guards, they can work together hand-in-hand with the robot. In this way, the robot becomes a production assistant in manufacture and as such can release staff from ergonomically unfavourable work.”

Volkswagen’s Salzgitter site is one of the world’s largest engine manufacturing plants. Every day, around 6,000 employees produce about 7,000 petrol and diesel engines in more than 370 variants. The 3-16 cylinder engines are installed in various models and brands of the Volkswagen group.

Universal Robots was founded in Denmark in 2005 with the aim of making robotics accessible to all. Its lightweight, flexible robot arms compete in a market that was previously dominated by large, heavy and costly robots. The arms are designed to automate monotonous and laborious processes, allowing manufacturers to use their human employees where they can create value. Universal Robots has about 100 employees.

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