Author(s): Raghu Gopal
For years, industrial robots have been used in production operations, making processes more efficient. Tasked with repetitive chores in manufacturing and warehousing, robots have brought benefits such as allowing factories to run round the clock and reducing errors. Technology companies like Amazon and Tesla have learned how to use the power of bots for specific tasks.
But now, rather than working in their own domains, robots are increasingly joining human workforces to provide specialised abilities. This is particularly the case in fields where tasks are dangerous or repetitive.
Last week, Airbus launched the fourth production line for its A320 aircraft family in Hamburg, Germany. The line uses digital technologies and a more flexible industrial set-up to help meet the company's goal of assembling 60 planes per month by mid-2019 from the current 50. Its A320 model has an eight-year order backlog, making the company particularly keen to maximise efficiencies.
The new Airbus production line features two robots for automated fuselage drilling. They will drill about 80 percent of holes on the upper side of the sections, improving efficiency and accuracy. The manufacturer says the robots drill with higher precision to keep a constant level of production quality, resulting in less rework. The facility also makes use of mobile tooling platforms that navigate autonomously with laser trackers.
Airbus has sold 8,000 of the jets and has another 6,000 on order; low costs are critical to this increasingly commoditised part of the business. As the A320 fights the equally sought-after Boeing 737, the battle over production strategy is expected to be even fiercer in the future.
The new Airbus robots, called Luise and Renate, are designed for their intended purposes, filled with hinges and cables allowing them to reach tough spots on the fuselage.
Other manufacturers and service industries are evaluating and implementing robots of various shapes and sizes in ways that would complement the skills of employees. Just as most workers have learned to use computers and software, robots will gradually become common tools for many field and factory workers.
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