The importance of automation in general and robotics in particular is increasing with each passing day. Robots are playing an increasingly important role in all walks of life – right from the agricultural sector to the manufacturing sector and from healthcare sector to education. The automotive sector is an important contributor to the GDP of developing and developed nations like India and Singapore. The increasing use of robots in the automotive sector has improved productivity and quality of all types of automobiles manufactured today.
The Automobile Assembly
Before discussing the utility of robots in the automotive sector, let us first understand the importance and working of an assembly line.
The aim of any business is to generate profits, and the automobile industry is not an exception. This is possible if the production is streamlined, wastage is minimal, and all the tasks are completed seamlessly. Assembly or production lines are manufacturing systems in which work progresses from one workstation to another in a linear sequence. That is, each workstation adds to the work-in-progress before it moves to the next workstation, adding parts or new assemblies as needed. The finished product is completed at the last workstation, ensuring that there is no going back and forth, saving on time and movement. Secondly, an assembly line ensures that each workstation does only the work designated to it, ensuring efficiency of workmanship. There is general consensus that the assembly line concept was first introduced by Ford Motors, the pioneers in automobile industry. Once their importance was understood, the principles were embraced by other manufacturing sectors as well. Indeed, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that the production line concept was a key factor in shaping the first industrial revolution. We are into the fourth industrial revolution today (called Industry 4.0), and the assembly line concept is still going strong, more than 100 years after it was first introduced.
How Robots are used in Automobile Assembly
As technology evolved and automation increased in an effort to boost productivity, industries adopted emerging technologies to assist in achieving their goal. Conveyor belts and automated cranes were the first technological improvements that helped the automobile industry boost production.The next innovation was the industrial robots that added more control and flexibility through the use of software. Automation played a huge role in the industrial revolutions. In particular, it was the third industrial revolution that made use of major inventions – the programmable logic controllers (PLCs), transistors, microprocessors, automation and robotics. Mass scale automation and the use of robots paved the way for the rise of entire new industries like space expeditions, aerospace & aeronautic engineering and biotechnology.
Robots play a vital part in the production of automobiles today. A wide number of mechanical processes like welding, cutting, painting, chassis assembly, etc are involved in the manufacturing of an automobile, and industrial robots are extremely useful in executing these tasks meticulously. A typical automotive industry consists of body shop, where most of the automobiles are assembled, paint shop, chassis line and a final assembly line. Robots are used everywhere in the process. In particular industrial robots are used by the automobile sector for:
Robots are also used for applying adhesives and sealer during the assembly in many advanced automobile industries in India, Singapore, etc.
While the auto sector uses different types of robots - like robots for painting, robots for welding, robots for material handling and so on - it is the collaborative robots with multi arms that are very useful. They work in cohesion with the handling and welding robots to make assembly lines function properly. These robots also have the flexibility to perform different task depending upon the software, and can work at high speeds with same degree of accuracy. Another benefit they offer is that these robots have a narrow width and do not occupy too much space. This ensures safety, visibility and accessibility which allow the robots to keep the down time to minimum levels.
Benefits of Robots
Since robots automate tasks, there have been manifold benefits of using robots in the automobile sector.
Improved Quality: Robots are precise, and can execute a task with improved tolerances. This has helped automobile companies reduce manual errors and improve efficiency. Today’s vehicles are complex, and provide a slew of amenities to their users. Engines, steering, lighting and air conditioning in most high end cars are very sophisticated and require a high degree of precision. Robots improve quality of these components, making for a better user experience.
Increase in Productivity: Robots are machines, and the better quality of robots can work almost incessantly with the same degree of accuracy. This has helped automobile industries ramp up their production; especially in festive seasons – for example, before Diwali in India.
Flexibility: One of the benefits of robots is that they are programmable. Using sophisticated robot development platform like Altair HyperWorks, it is possible to recode their functionality. This comes in handy as technology progresses rapidly in the automobile industry. Unlike manual labour, there is no downtime for training robots to adapt new technology.
Worker safety: Working on an assembly line is fraught with dangers. Robots take away the risk of accidents to human life.
Robots in Automobile Sector – the Way Ahead
Robots have been used in the automobile sector as early as the 1960s, and their importance has only grown in stature. The robots of today are bringing in a seamless interaction between humans, AI, VR and AR. Diligent use of robots allows humans to accomplish complex labour intensive and arduous tasks with increased precision, flexibility and safety. Industry 4, another disruptive technology that involves IIoT and IoT, has helped manufacturing sector in streamlining production with even more efficiency. Industry 4.0 allows almost real time communication between devices, and helps the software governing the IIoT infrastructure (like PTC KepWare and the ThingWorx platform) take intelligent decisions based on the data received. Robots and artificial intelligence are important components of the Industry 4.0 ecosystem, and will play an increasingly important role in automating production.As sophistication in robotic programming and AI grows, their utility will keep on increasing in the overall improvement of the automotive sector. There are many world leading companies that are at the forefront of developing software for Industry 4.0. For example, PTC CAD solutions like Creo facilitate in developing great designs, Altair HyperWorks solutions help companies conduct advanced analysis such as structural analysis, product design optimisation, Kinematics & multibody dynamics and many more. This helps companies build robust and high performance oriented systems.