Towards intelligent and collaborative automation of automotive final assembly

Abstract: Automation and robotics have transformed the automotive industry by increasing efficiency and improving product quality. However, in manual final assembly and material handling in the truck industry, where the environment is crowded and the process is complex, it is hard to automate using traditional industrial robots. Due to the new trends of self-driving, electrification, and connectivity, the truck variants will drastically increase, which will require a new type of flexible, intelligent and reconfigurable production system where humans and robots collaborate to handle the upcoming complexity.Collaborative robot systems are designed to enable collaboration between humans and robots. They can be flexible and easier to use and install compared to traditional robots while relieving the human from the unergonomic and more monotonous tasks and freeing up his/her time for more value-adding operations. However, despite the great amount of research and industrial effort in promoting collaborative robots, they are underused and are mostly installed to handle simpler tasks, like traditional robots but without fences.The main aim of this work is to increase the understanding of how to introduce intelligent and collaborative robot systems into complex applications such as final assembly. Two demonstrators were developed by the research group where a manual final assembly station and a kitting station were transformed into collaborative assembly and kitting stations. Based on these industrial use cases, a set of challenges and critical requirements have been identified that need to be addressed. These requirements are related to safe, efficient and intuitive interactions, tools, deliberative control, robust communication and variant handling. The most critical requirement is the safety of machines and humans. In this work, by evaluating the current safety standards, it is identified that the available collaborative modes do not support the implementation of intelligent and adaptive collaborative systems in complex applications. A new collaborative mode is therefore suggested for deliberative and adaptive systems where robot system and operator plan, deliberate, adapt and act together.Even if it would be possible to develop a safe and fully working collaborative and intelligent automation system, the engineering processes must also be transformed to be able to design, plan, prepare, and to manage product and process changes for these new systems. Based on the studied use cases, possible solutions for the future planning and preparation process are also proposed in this thesis.

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