Smart Robots Working Next To Autoworkers At BMW

by Bernie McGroarty on September 18, 2013, 11:58 am

Robots have been present in automobile manufacturing for decades now. In the past it wasn't safe for employees to work close to these robots, due to their size and design. Tasks were either done by robot, or by human. That is starting to change.

At BMW's plant in Spartansburg, South Carolina, a new generation of more "user-friendly" robots are working side by side with employees. The robots offer support to the human processes to help complete tasks.These robots aren't meant to take the jobs of current workers, but alleviate them from having to do more strenuous ones. In the South Carolina plant, robots are helping with the application of a sealant to the final door assembly. It's no easy task, "It's pretty heavy work because you have to roll this glue line to the door," says Stefan Bartscher, head of innovation at BMW. "If you do that several times a day, it's like playing a Wimbledon match." By taking some of the strain off the human workers, it's said that employees would be more productive.

According to Bartscher, final assembly robots will not replace human workers; they will extend their careers. "Our workers are getting older," Bartscher says. "The retirement age in Germany just rose from 65 to 67, and I'm pretty sure when I retire it'll be 72 or something. We actually need something to compensate and keep our workforce healthy, and keep them in labor for a long time. We want to get the robots to support the humans."

Over the next few years, more sophisticated robots capable of direct collaboration with humans should be introduced. BMW is working on testing more of these robots for use in their final assembly lines.

Read the full article from MIT Technology Review here.

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