Employee with joystick of robot controls

​Collaborative robot: more arms for the worker

FCA is a pioneer in Latin America, introducing technology in its production with a two arm model

March 29, 2018 - Those who are fans of science fiction certainly have already imagined, at least once, what life would be like for humans if they could count on robots to facilitate their day-to-day life. The routine of a family would not be less exhaustive with the presence of the authoritarian but affectionate Rosie (the robot maid), from the television series The Jetsons, originally exhibited in the 1960s. And what about the loyal droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, from the Star Wars saga? While the former was notable for his courage and for helping the heroes countless times to save the galaxy, the latter, always clumsy, contributed to the missions by being fluent in more than six million forms of communication.

But it is wrong to think that all this is very far from the current reality. A new generation of robots, programmed to facilitate human activities in the industry, is there to prove it. They are collaborative robots, interacting directly with human beings in the production process, with total security. And FCA is the first company in Latin America to use them in the manufacturing process. These automated assistants have been in the factories since 2015, to provide more comfort to the employees and more quality and efficiency to the productive processes. “The collaborative robot was born to help and effectively collaborate with the operator, like a third arm for the employee”, explains Marcello Marucci, responsible for the robots in Manufacturing Engineering for Latin America, noting that collaborative robots are not substitutes for the human factor in the plants, but facilitators of the operator’s own work.

Two collaborative robots installed at FCA Betim (Brazil), located at the Fiat Powertrain Technologies (FPT), for the assembly operation of FireFly engines

According to Marucci, there are two collaborative robots installed at FCA Betim (Brazil), located at the Fiat Powertrain Technologies (FPT), for the assembly operation of FireFly engines. The devices assist the workers in the assembly operations of parts, delivering the specific tools for the job. “From the insertion of these robots in the process, an average reduction of 15% in NVAA (Non Value Added Activities) was observed in manual operations, which are unnecessary movements without added value “, he says. In addition, the robots achieved a reduction of 20% in the waste of parts, that is, in losses. With these two results, it is possible to affirm that such technology makes the productive process more dynamic, since it reduces costs and reduces operator’s fatigue.

The automated process controller Cléber Márcio de Oliveira, who has worked for FCA for 21 years and almost three with the help of the collaborative robot, agrees. “The presence of these robots has greatly changed our work routine due to the great benefits provided by them. It has made our activities much easier by removing the parts we had on the sides of the process line”, he says. Without the robots, which make deliveries of complete kits with the necessary parts for the job, the operators had to move around to gather all the necessary components. He also stresses that robots are highly safe and offer no risk to the worker’s physical integrity, which makes the interaction between humans and machines easy. As you can see in the photos, these friendly robots don’t remind us at all of the Terminator of the Future.

Safety is, in fact, what makes the collaborative robot different from others. Today, about 1,100 robots are in operation at the Fiat Automotive Plant, but almost all of them need to remain enclosed, surrounded by protective bars that separate them from employees. The collaborative robots on the other hand, have sensors to pause a movement in a matter of a few milliseconds when they perceive that they might hit an object or even a human body. “In addition, our training to bring robots and humans closer is done in a controlled environment, in the laboratory Manufacturing 2020, which offers technical specialists and safety measures during the course, which includes basic and advanced concepts of robotics and safety”, says Marucci . We tested the robots in the laboratory for about three months before moving on to the production line. In the same laboratory, other technologies are also studied to facilitate the production process, such as the exoskeleton, already implemented in manufacturing and responsible for conferring strength, balance and superhero resistance to operators.

FCA tests new robots as the first Latin American assembly plant to receive a model with two arms

YuMi, an ABB two arm collaborative robot

In addition to the collaborative robots already active in the production process, another three are in the installation phase: one being in the Fiat Automotive Pole Assembly unit in Betim (Brazil), for the preparation of windshield glass fixation, and two in the Body area, to assist in the assembly work of the side doors. “We have been testing YuMi, an ABB two arm collaborative robot, in our Lab2020 since February”, says Marcello. This model will work in the certification of the dimension of holes for the head of the motor, by means of an exact system of vision, with a precision of two hundredths of a millimeter. FCA is the first automobile industry in Latin America to receive this invention, baptized as YuMi for the combination of the words “you and me”.

Launched in 2015, the YuMi weighs 38 Kg and completely designed with human safety in mind. “In addition to having sensors that guarantee it to stop at the first contact with any human being without hurting it, it’s covered in rubber and its design has no points that can squeeze hands or fingers”, says the sales coordinator of ABB Robotics, Daniel of Faria Diniz. He says that the robot has a wide range of applications that can also be used in electronics, telephone, toys, hygiene and beauty, and even food industries.

Diniz points out that the programming of the YuMi is up to 70% faster than that of a non-collaborative robot, which allowed for greater agility in adapting the machine to the needs of FCA. Simple programming means that the robot can be relocated to any other function without delay. Speaking in such a manner it seems that it would take a large structure or a lot of resources to feed the robot, right? But it can be plugged into a 110 or 220 volt outlet. “Robust, the robot manages to work without taking breaks for 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Diniz.

To guarantee even more improvements in the processes, FCA already foresees new acquisitions of collaborative robots. “We are studying their use to help in the process of screwing, loading and unloading, assembly and fitting actions, inspection and measurement, adhesive application, riveting and polishing”, reveals Marucci. The future which was previously reserved for science fiction has arrived and you already live in it. Humans and robots are already working together in factories, to build even better products for you. Isn’t it fantastic?

Words: Bárbara Caldeira

Pictures: Marketing

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