Robots have considerable potential for application in Volskwagen plants, according to Dr. Werner Schreiber, director of Research, Volkswagen AG, speaking at the 2004 Robotics Industry Forum held by the Robotic Industries Association (Ann Arbor; www.roboticsonline.com). Looking at the four major sectors of a vehicle assembly operation, he sees it this way:
Press Shop. As VW has installed high-speed presses with integral part handling, the place where there is robotic potential is handling stamped parts coming out of the presses on conveyors. Presently, due to the part volume (e.g., door panels are stamped by a press at a rate of 40/minute) and due to the fact there is typically misalignment of the parts as they move on the conveyors, the stampings are manually removed and stacked. So Schreiber said that there is a need for robots that are fast and have vision so that the parts can be located on the conveyor. Accuracy and reliability are other characteristics they’re seeking.
Body Shop. Here they’re seeking robots that provide speed, accuracy, more payload capacity (e.g., they’re using robots to move bodies from station to station rather than fixed automation), and are easy to integrate. Speaking to the issue of integration, Schreiber said that one of the things they would like to do is to have the means to quickly integrate robots into lower-volume lines. In addition to which, he wants more robot control capability to use various joining methods—thermal (he said that VW uses lasers for 50% of its spot welds) as well as non thermal (e.g., rivets, adhesives, self-driving screws).
Paint Shop. He said that because there is such extensive use of robots in the paint shop now, the future shouldn’t look different from the present. However, he said that he would like to have robots that are “a little cheaper than today’s.” (Speaking to the issue of cost, he said that he’d like to investigate the ways and means to pay for robots in a different way than straight-out acquisition. He noted that presently in the paint shop the paint supplier gets paid based on each individual vehicle processed and that there is an incentive for the paint supplier to improve the operation in that half of the savings garnered go back to the supplier.)
Assembly Shop. He said that he would like to see robots that have the abilities to do such things as see and feel so that they can be used for operations beyond things like inserting spare tires into trucks and batteries under hoods. Also, he would like robots to have the ability wherein they can work with assembly line personnel without the levels of safety devices that are necessary today.—GSV