Introducing the Cobots: The Helpful Robots on BSH Production Lines in Spain
Since 2013, our BSH colleagues in Esquiroz have been working side by side with collaborative robots. José Juste explains how these robots are improving conditions for their human colleagues.
Collaborative robots or cobots as they have come to be known, can sense, learn and respond to situations and even assist with delicate assembly tasks. The automated, lightweight cobots first moved into our Esquiroz site in 2013, and the site now has 21 of these mechanical colleagues, which help out on the production lines, sensing, detecting, repetitively moving heavy parts and joining them together – all in collaboration with their human colleagues.
As José Juste, Head of Technology for BSH in Spain explains, “our site in Esquiroz produces refrigerators, which are exported all across Europe. The manufacture of refrigerators involves the strenuous task of inserting the gasket, or seal, into the designated slots on the refrigerator doors. A task, which, when performed manually, requires a lot of physical strength in the wrist and arm. This task is now performed with the help of the cobots. The robots have largely taken over the strenuous task of fitting the gaskets into the refrigerator doors making work easier for their human colleagues and making these injuries a thing of the past.”
But, Juste is also very quick to point out that* human workers are still very much needed* on this section of the production line. This is because the human colleagues have to show the cobot where to fit the gaskets using their tablet and the cobot then uses its 3D visualising and sensors to fit the gasket in the right place.
2013 – The beginning of the cobot-era
Collaborative robots also bring a whole new range of benefits with them aside the obvious ergonomic ones, including improving the product quality and the overall productivity of the factory. The production time of a “No-Frost 12” fridge was reduced by 7 minutes per appliance in 2015, for example. Also, “we can even use the robots for different kinds of tasks without changing the production layout” explains Juste. So, they can easily take on many other functions including pressing the fridge seals, inlaying metal sheets, picking up plastic door parts and screwing. Juste and his team are also thinking of many other possibilities and working out how to make these happen.
“Despite the increase in speed and efficiency, we have not compromised on the safety of our workers – after all, machines and humans are working next to each other on the production line” says Juste. The robots are light and move at a relatively slow speed. Also, the robot arms have been designed to react to the smallest external forces and allow for safe anti-collision protection, so if unexpected contact is made, the speed is rapidly reduced to avoid injuries.
Science Fiction and Reality
Increased flexibility, speed and safety, the advantages of using robots are obvious. “In the long term, we want to use cobots everywhere to make our work easier and help our employees in situations when they might need more capacity for more complex and intellectual tasks,” Juste says.
The results have been so encouraging that other sites in Spain – Cartuja and Montañana – have also installed their own cobots. In Cartuja, for example, they are being used to screw the plastic tub and the front panel to cabinets – using artificial vision in both cases and adapting the screwdriver position to absorb dimensional variances of parts. José Juste is convinced that “this intelligent integration of robots into our factories and the Internet of Things is the future.”
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