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First robot collaborates directly with employees in Volkswagen plant

Integrated safety mode: First robot collaborates directly with employees in engine production plant Salzgitter/Germany. Car manufacturer Volkswagen backs robots from Universal Robots to promote ergonomic working processes.

The car manufacturing group Volkswagen has integrated an industrial robotic arm of the Danish manufacturer Universal Robots into mass production at its engine production plant in Salzgitter. The lightweight robot UR5 is installed in the cylinder head assembly section, where it is responsible for handling delicate glow plugs. What is special about this is that it is the first collaborative robot in use at Volkswagen worldwide. Due to its integrated safety mode the six-axis robotic arm is able to collaborate directly with people without any guards. It thus contributes significantly towards optimizing healthy working processes. 

Universal Robots UR5 at VW. Foto design Gasparini


The Volkswagen plant in Salzgitter, with an area of 2,800,000 square metres, is one of the largest engine production plants in the world. Some 6,000 employees manufacture approximately 7,000 petrol and diesel engines in over 370 variants there every day. The 3- to 16-cylinder engines are installed in the various models and brands of the Volkswagen group. The car manufacturer recently deployed a collaborative industrial robotic arm of the Danish manufacturer, Universal Robots, with people in the cylinder head assembly section of the plant for the purpose of inserting glow plugs into the cylinder heads.


By reason of its integrated safety mode (matching Standard EN ISO 10218), the industrial robot is able to work in the close vicinity of humans. It is equipped with a collaborative gripper, which the system integrator Faude Automatisierungstechnik has developed exclusively for Volkswagen and which meets the safety requirements of ISO/TS 15066, the specification standard for collaborating robots. Thus the robot was able to be integrated into the production line without additional protective housing.


‘We would like to prevent long-term burdens on our employees in all areas of our company with an ergonomic workplace layout. By using robots without guards they can work together hand in hand with the robot. In this way, the robot be-comes a production assistant in manufacture and as such can release staff from ergonomically unfavourable work’, explains Jürgen Häfner, project manager at Volkswagen’s Salzgitter plant.

The project was implemented over a period of two years in close collaboration with Universal Robots’ distributor partner Faude Automatisierungstechnik. Together, the two employees in production, which were previously responsible for fitting the glow plugs onto the cylinder heads, should be relieved of a burden. Until now they had to insert the glow plugs in a stooping posture into the scarcely visible cylinder head drill holes.


Hand in hand with a robot colleague
This step is now being taken over by the six-axis UR5 lightweight robot from Universal Robots. It carefully picks up the delicate glow plugs, which are provided by a specially designed separation system, and puts them into the hard-to-reach drill holes. An employee is then responsible for tightening the glow plugs and for insulating the cylinder head, which is required for the next step in production. Thanks to the direct joint working with the robot, which acts as an assistant, he can carry out these activities in an upright, healthy posture. In doing so, he is able to keep a constant watch over the process, so as to be able to intervene quickly when necessary.


‘We are delighted with the successful implementation of this unprecedented pro-ject and with the fact that our robots can contribute towards ergonomic work processes,’ says Thomas Visti, Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Universal Robots.


‘This was able to be accomplished mainly due to the result-oriented and construc-tive cooperation between Volkswagen and our partner Faude Automatisierungstechnik.’


Photo Design: Thomas Gasparini.

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