In 2005, 90% of all robots were found in one place: automotive factories. Today, 14 years later, that number has dipped to less than 50%, and here's why: almost every industry is discovering innovative ways to incorporate these non-human helpers. Even so, the auto industry king still rules the robot roost.
"Without this automation, our factories would have been obsolete a long time ago," Dr. Jay Baron, former CEO of the Center for Automotive Research, has said of automotive robots. “Automation is necessary for safety, quality and productivity."
But these robots aren’t going displace humans anytime soon. They are instead collaborative creations designed to maximize efficiency throughout the car-building process. They've been doing just that for years. Way back in 2014, humans were reportedly 85% more productive working with robots than without them.
Ford, GM, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and virtually every other manufacturer use "co-bots" (collaborative robots) on their factory floors to perform such functions as car painting, welding and assembly line work. Robotics expert Frank Tobe thinks such robots will only become more useful in the future and that “the traditional caged robot at auto factories is becoming obsolete.”
These six U.S. companies are helping to shape the future of automotive robotics.
How it’s using robotics in the automotive industry: Rethink Robotics co-bots help with handling materials, tending to machines, testing and inspecting and even packaging finished products. The company’s co-bot, Sawyer (pictured above), works with tiny parts and can reach into tight spaces.
Industry Impact: Automotive part maker Tennplasco used Rethink Robotics’ Sawyer to help build and inspect assembly line parts. It reportedly did the work of two humans.
How it’s using robotics in the automotive industry: Used for automotive assembly, Rockwell Automation’s robots provide assistance in the body shop — everything from installing parts and painting cars to helping with inventory management and quality control.
Industry Impact: With an eye towards the future, Rockwell is developing robots that will help automate the manufacturing of electric cars. The company offers different technologies and robots to help scale an electric car factory.
Location: Augsburg, Germany
How it’s using robotics in the automotive industry: Kuka's extensive line of robots and softwares automate car-making processes. For example, the company’s software installs into prefabricated robot applications and can run everything from 3D visualizations to simulations. The Kuka robots can support massive payloads and perform tasks such as welding, water jet cutting and assembling line inspection.
Industry Impact: Kuka makes at least 18 robots for auto industry automation that do everything from laser welding and washing to creating seat elements for BMWs using 3D geometry.
Location: Council Bluffs, Iowa
How it’s using robotics in the automotive industry: Acieta creates FANUC robots for assembly line automation that have a wide range of motions and the ability to perform a variety of tasks. They can be used for everything from creating automotive components (like pumps or motors) to welding larger car body panels and smaller brackets.
Industry Impact: Acieta has installed more than 4,400 of its industrial automotive manufacturing robots throughout plants in North America.
Robotic Vision Technologies
Location: Silver Springs, Md.
How it’s using robotics in the automotive industry: Robotic Vision Technologies creates 3D vision guided software for robots and co-bots. The Single Camera 3D, compatible with every major industrial bot, helps locate and identify different parts of an automobile in less than 0.1 seconds. The robotic visioning helps auto manufacturers increase efficiency through its ability to recognize different automotive parts and send out malfunction alerts.
Industry Impact: Robotic Vision Technologies is trusted by some of the most prominent manufacturers in the world, including Boeing, Ford and Toyota.
How it’s using robotics in the automotive industry: Universal Robots created three different co-bots that integrate into an automotive production line. Mimicking the movement of a human arm, its robotic arm brings added precision to different car making processes. The company's UX can replace human operators in jobs that are dangerous, dirty or monotonous, freeing up workers to perform more advanced and fulfilling tasks.
Industry Impact: Spain’s leading automotive industry magazine, Autorevista, awarded its 2018 annual industry leader award to Universal Robots for “the way it has radically transformed industrial robotics."
Images via social media, Built In archives and Shutterstock