Mario Rodríguez
Managing Director
KUKA de México
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View from the Top

Optimizing the Vehicle Life Cycle with Robotics

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 16:24

Q: What new trends have you detected in the automotive industry that could potentially impact on robotics, and how is KUKA preparing for these new challenges?

A: We believe there are four significant trends in the automotive industry. Firstly, due to globalization, locations of plants will be dictated by OEM locations. In addition, Industry 4.0 is calling for versatility among factories, and demographic changes are having a significant impact on the production concepts of automobile manufacturers. Finally, with global warming in mind, overall resource efficiency is becoming increasingly important. Therefore, our challenge is to optimize the entire vehicle life cycle, lowering CO2 emissions all the way through production of raw materials, use, and ultimately the car’s recycling.

KUKA is a global organization that manufactures its robots in Germany and China, and we manage our distribution through subsidiaries worldwide. Consequently, we are able to understand local requirements easily, adapt our robotic systems accordingly, and ensure our proximity to customers. At KUKA, we are shaping and driving the change, so Industry 4.0 is not simply a buzzword. Turning concepts of a ‘smart factory’ into reality is only possible with high-performance production systems that are equally efficient and flexible. KUKA is already offering these developments, oriented particularly toward the field of human-robot collaboration, as well as mobile robotic systems with autonomous navigation software. KUKA invests a considerable number of resources in internationally recognized open standards, in order to guarantee customers the highest response in terms of interoperability. The system’s flexibility under Industry 4.0 comes primarily from the combination of advanced IT technologies, such as Cloud and Big Data, with classic automation technology. KUKA is focusing on providing solutions based on high-performance and a standardized infrastructure. We are collaborating with Swisslog, KUKA Industries, and KUKA Systems on the new sensitive Lightweight Robot (LBR) iiwa, designed for direct interaction between humans and robots, especially during strenuous and challenging tasks.

Q: How has KUKA developed a user friendly interface for customers that are not familiar with this technology?

A: KUKA offers a tool for offline programming called KUKA.sim, a simplified user interface with prefabricated technology packages for processes and sophisticated diagnosis functions. Even in terms of programming, KUKA goes one step further with the LBR iiwa. The lightweight robot is an intelligent helper for industrial tasks, and it opens up new fields of application in terms of service and medical robotics. This new robot can be moved quickly and intuitively to any position through manual teaching, in which the human operator programs paths by demonstration, reducing time immensely. Furthermore, the minimal programming effort involved with the LBR iiwa would be of particular interest for orders of small batch sizes and large product variety. The LBR iiwa has also opened up a new chapter in human-robot collaboration, since the system acts as the third hand of the operator and can work directly with humans, without a safety fence. Regarding the automotive industry, this robot could replace human labor in tedious and difficult tasks, such as inserting plugs in a vehicle body.

Q: What has been the response to the introduction of mobile robots in the Mexican market?

A: This technology has recently been released so it is in the early stages of introduction to the market. However, we are expecting this technology to be a significant part of our product portfolio, contributing to new segments where the robotics business has been less active in the past. With the KUKA Mobile Robotics (KMR) iiwa, the company is combining the strengths of the sensitive LBR iiwa with a mobile and autonomous platform, thus offering the perfect solution for all conceivable scenarios. This innovation allows the robot to become completely location-independent, and a highly flexible production assistant with an unrestricted workspace creates an ideal basis for meeting Industry 4.0’s requirements. Additionally, thanks to its specially developed Mecanum wheels, the platform can be moved in any direction from a standstill. The robot and the vehicle are operated with the KUKA Sunrise controller, capable of handling multiple kinematic systems, considerably simplifying operator control and use in practical applications. The platform includes several environmental scanners and ultrasound sensors to detect and avoid any obstacles the vehicle might encounter.