One of Ford’s factories has deployed a cobot – named Robbie – to work with people with reduced mobility to undertake tasks that would otherwise be considered difficult or impossible by such workers due to their ailment. After a successful 18-month trial, the company is keeping Robbie on a permanent basis and it could lead to further cobots being installed in Ford production plants to broaden the working opportunities to a more diverse range of people.
“Over the years, it got harder and harder for me to do my job, Then, along comes this little robot and, for me, it’s like having an extra arm – a very strong extra arm,” said Dietmar, production line employee. “It’s changed everything. I hope that it will open the door for others like me to get the chance to do, or keep doing, the jobs they love.”.
The implementation took place on the Ford assembly line in Cologne, Germany, where small circular covers are attached to the engines. The person places two covers in the holders and prompts Robbie to pick each one up and press them firmly into place. This precision task requires lining up the holes perfectly so Dietmar can use an electric screwdriver to secure the covers and the engine moves along the line.
Ford’s research project was designed to show that disabled people and those with reduced mobility could take on jobs in manufacturing without the need for protective devices or safety barriers. Robbie moves only when activated by Dietmar and has sensors that detect when his hands or fingers might be in the way.
Previously, Ford introduced other cobots that have been programmed to assist production line workers with complex procedures, such as polishing vehicles.