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New human-robot cooperation in Audi’s final assembly processes

At its main plant in Ingolstadt, Audi has for the first time deployed a robot that works “hand-in-hand” with humans—without a safety barrier and ideally adapted to the employees’ working cycles. It is the first human-robot cooperation at the Volkswagen Group to be applied in final assembly. The technology makes work easier for the assembly employees and makes ergonomic improvements, the company said.

Formerly, employees of the A4/A5/Q5 assembly lines at Ingolstadt had to bend over material boxes to take out the coolant expansion tanks. This might seem a simple task, but with frequent repetitions it can lead to back problems. Now, however, the task will be taken over by a specialized KUKA robot, known internally as “PART4you” (Produktions-Assistent reicht Teil). (Volkswagen AG is increasingly working with Germany-based robot manufacturer KUKA; in late 2012, the Group awarded KUKA a contract for 6,000 robots for various plants—KUKA’s largest single blanket order.)

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At the Audi plant in Ingolstadt, the PART4you robot works hand-in-hand with people without any safety barriers. Click to enlarge.

PART4you is fitted with a camera and an integrated suction cup. This enables it to pick up the components from the boxes and to pass them to the assembly workers—without any safety barrier, at the right time and in an ergonomically optimal position.

In a production process with increasing diversity of model versions, PART4you provides the employees with important assistance. It selects the correct component and holds it ready to be taken. This means that the employees no longer have to reach over long distances or bend down repeatedly. The robot becomes an assembly assistant operating at the same speed as the assembly worker—and not the other way around. Thanks to a soft protective skin with integrated safety sensors, there is no danger to the employees.

—Johann Hegel, Head of Assembly Technology Development

Because PART4you fulfills the special safety precautions for cooperating robots, the intelligent system has received the required certificate from the employers’ liability insurance association.

We see the opportunities presented by the advancing interaction between man and machine. The decisive aspect for us is how this development is guided. We welcome it when it neither jeopardizes jobs nor leads to people losing independence to machines.

—Peter Mosch, Chairman of the Group Works Council of Audi AG

Since 2013, Audi employees in the A4 body shop in Ingolstadt have been working with the same type of robot equipped with an adhesive nozzle instead of a suction cup, but with fixed timing and without passing components. In the body shop, the robots support the employees by applying adhesive to bonded seams. Instead of applying the adhesive to the body parts themselves, the employees only have to put them in place and start the automatic procedure.

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In the A4 body shop at Ingolstadt, a bonding robot works hand-in-hand with people. It supports the employees by applying adhesive to bonded seams. Click to enlarge.

Audi is planning further applications of human-robot cooperation, also at its international production sites.

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