- Self-learning machines, self-driving transportation systems and real-time data acquisition – at the technology fair, Ford employees are given insights into the latest and future Industry 4.0 applications at the Cologne location
- The new cognitive robots, exoskeletons and augmented reality glasses that will be used in the future Cologne electrification center will bring many advantages to the workforce.
- Major innovation force at Ford in Cologne: “Manufacturing TechDays” also delivers in-house workforce developments
Augmented reality, collaborative cognitive robots, or intelligent, self-propelled transportation systems to regenerate materials – all of these tech solutions are no longer the dreams of the future. Ford in Cologne is already working with it and will play a bigger role in the factory of the future. The manufacturer is currently undergoing the largest transformation in the company’s history. The Cologne plant is preparing to produce Europe’s first all-electric volume model from Ford, which will roll off the assembly line here from 2023. Turning the site into Ford’s first European electric hub—worth US$2 billion and the largest investment in the plant’s 91-year history— It does not only involve structural changes.
The latest systems and technologies will be used in the future, and a large-scale training offensive for the workforce will be the starting blocks. At “Manufacturing TechDays,” Ford employees in Cologne gained their first comprehensive insights into innovative Industry 4.0 applications. At this technology fair in the historic Hall A of the Niehler plant, Ford production experts presented various innovations from different production regions, some of which are already in use. Others will increasingly use Ford employees in production in the future.
Some of these innovations are actually the automaker’s own developments: “Of course, we always keep a close eye on the technical innovations that emerge in the auto industry,” says Rene Wolfe, Ford-Werke’s managing director of production. “But in some cases, the solutions offered are simply not enough – it takes the experience and knowledge of our employees to develop our own solutions or to be able to use existing technologies in entirely new areas of business,” stresses Wolf.
Here is an overview of the technical features presented at TechDays:
Extended Reality (ER)
Among other things, this virtual technology offers many advantages in employee training – hands-on training can be carried out with the help of augmented reality (AR) glasses, for example, without the use of obsolete materials or tools. These glasses virtually extend visual reality with 3D and interactive elements. Collaboration at different Ford plants or with suppliers can also be simplified using virtual technology – in real time: via live video and in 3D, for example, colleagues at the Valencia plant can see exactly how a particular work step is being carried out in Cologne. . Employees can support and advise each other. In addition, this technology also allows the possibility of flexible planning of production lines virtually using animated 3D CAD objects, that is, computer-aided design. Augmented reality applications are already being used at the training center in Cologne: trainees can practice welding virtually. At the Cologne engine plant, augmented reality glasses were recently used for safety training and for live broadcasting of on-line audits.
Cooperating robots are lightweight, force-sensitive robots that, thanks to built-in torque sensors, can work alongside an employee without the need for additional protective equipment. They often perform supportive activities that practically relax people, so that physical stress decreases. Cobots are used, among other things, at the assembly plant at the engine plant and at the Fiesta’s final assembly door line.
Ford is currently studying the future use of cognitive robots in Cologne: compared to previous robots, this type of robot has more sensors and uses artificial intelligence. Thanks to these cognitive abilities, the robot can perceive the environment and react to possible changes and dangers. Unlike an ordinary cobot, it not only performs clearly defined support activities, but can also actively interact with the employee.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) are driverless transportation systems that travel on fixed or predetermined routes based on ground markings or laser navigation. Obstacles in the road are detected by built-in sensors, so the AGV can react and stop on its own. AGVs are currently used in various fields of production – first in the production of the lower part of the chassis, and now also in the production of the door in the chassis body and final assembly.
So-called autonomous mobile robots – AMR constitutes the next level of mobile transportation systems. The AMR path can be preset, which means it can be easily set up using a computer, tablet or smartphone. Certain regions can also be blocked. Instead, the transport robot can move freely and search for the most efficient path. This distinguishes them from traditional AGVs: AMRs are independent systems. If there is an obstacle in the way, they can not only stop, but also calculate a new route and avoid the obstacle. In Cologne, Ford engineers paired this system with their own new development: in the chassis of the chassis, they developed a special locking mechanism based on the standard transmission frame. This enables independent loading and unloading as well as separation of containers with small parts from one transport frame to another.
APS . rack
The All-Parts-Standard (APS) rack is also a very successful innovation from the body shop in Cologne. It may sound simple, but it brings a huge amount of added value: the field of application is the stacking and disassembly of sharp and sometimes heavy components. This activity carries a risk of injury and is not ideal from a human point of view. Usually, special packaging and cameras are required to automate such tasks, so that production robots can fully capture the components automatically.
However, the engineers who built the cologne structure succeeded in developing this special shelf: the basis is a metal plate with holes. Depending on which part will be stacked, this board is equipped with rails in the indicated positions. This way, the components can be stored one on top of the other in a specific position without them sliding around. The corresponding stored parts are then pushed into a fully automated system and the on-site robot can remove the components accordingly. With the next component, the metal rods are simply connected at a different point. This system is now used in the printing press and body shop, and after a successful pilot in Cologne, it also found its way to other European Ford plants.
Mobile Artificial Intelligence Vision System (MAIVS)
The so-called MAIVS is a visual system that takes pictures of the vehicle at certain stations in real time and then compares these image materials with stored information. In this way, defects are detected instantly with the help of artificial intelligence. This system is controlled via applications on your smartphone or tablet. These educational apps will be used for the first time this year in Cologne.
Exoskeletons are external support structures that provide personnel with individual mechanical support, thereby avoiding potential hazards or incorrect ergonomic loads during certain physical work. They are used when other technical or organizational solutions cannot be used. The first tests have already begun at the Ford plant in Valencia – two new types of exoskeleton were used: the so-called Schlüter-Exo for overhead work and back-exo for stations where employees have to bend forward.
Ford-Werke GmbH is a German car manufacturer and mobility service provider based in Cologne.
The company employs about 19,800 people at its locations in Cologne, Saarlouis and Aachen. Since its founding in 1925, Ford’s factories have produced more than 47 million vehicles. Additional press information is available at www.media.ford.com.
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Original content from: Ford-Werke GmbH, transmitted by news aktuell