Automotive automation technology is constantly advancing. The advancement of additional technologies such as 3D printed parts and incorporation of precise robotic line workers means that auto manufacturers have come to rely on high outputs and minimal downtime – something an all-human workforce simply can’t replicate.
In many ways, the auto industry has been a pilot project, being the first pioneers to embrace automation and continuously drive the need for such technologies. In fact, the auto industry alone accounts for nearly half of all industrial robotics sales in North America. This implementation has not only increased output and reduced downtime but has also significantly increased profits for auto manufacturers.
What is the History of Automotive Automation?
Automotive automation isn’t a new concept. The concept of mechanical counterparts that work in tandem with humans came to life in the early 1920s. Prior to that, the first assembly line was opened with the invention of the Linear Transfer System by Henry Ford.
The Linear Transfer System was designed to transfer heavy parts between assembly stations, reducing the strain on workers and speeding production times from 12 hours per vehicle to 1.5. After World War 2, automation started to take off. As the economy began to boom, so did the need for automobiles, which quickly spurred the need for more efficient output in manufacturing facilities. By 1961, General Motors had launched its first industrial robot prototype that could perform spot-welding tasks. From there, the first integrated circuit was created and implemented in 1970, which made way for pick-and-place industrial robots that took the strain off workers and improved plant safety.
How is Automotive Automation Used Today?
The majority of repetitive, monotonous, and dangerous tasks have been simplified through automation. With advancements in robotic autonomy and machine learning, some industrial robots now use vision-like sensor technology to help them perform intricate tasks and adapt to a changing environment. In addition, co-bots (collaborative robots) are working alongside human workers on many tasks that still require human interaction.
Robotic automation in auto manufacturing will play an integral role in the shift from combustion engines to electric vehicles since robots can be programmed to meet higher demands and perform new roles while meeting production criteria. This especially will make newer vehicles and technology more affordable for the general public sooner than in the past.
Will Automotive Automation Replace Assembly-Line Workers?
Throughout the rise of automation in manufacturing, there has been concern over its impact on job security. However, as industrial robots carry out dangerous and dirty tasks, it is leaving humans with greater workplace safety, fewer on-the-job injuries, and internal opportunities to re-skill or learn how to maintain these robotic employees.
Many studies have shown that the overall impact of automation on the workforce is positive, with automation leading to the creation of new jobs.
What is Automotive Automation used for in Manufacturing?
Since its inception, automation within the auto industry has relieved human workers of heavy, monotonous, and dangerous tasks and speeding up production times. Although technology has changed, the purpose behind it has not. Today’s Assembly lines couldn’t function on manpower alone, which is why industrial automotive robots have been designed and programmed to handle increasingly more tasks.
Robotic workers are skilled in the manufacturing and assembly of:
Automotive interiors such as handles, latches and hinges
Automotive exteriors such as running boards, grills and fender flares
Vehicle powertrains, including engine assembly, manifolds and resonators
Automotive electronic parts such as electronic modules, headlights and tail lights
Automotive seating such as frames, recliners, tracks and flat-fold mechanisms
How will Automotive Automation Adapt to New Technology?
Automotive automation technology is always in a state of flux. Newer industrial robots can easily be programmed to take on new tasks, which is often easier than re-training your entire workplace to meet new demands. For example, recent advancements in electric vehicle powertrain design have been made possible by manufacturers who are willing to adopt new technology in automotive automation. As the demand for renewable resources and alternative energy continues, electric vehicle production is just one way to support this future.
What’s on the Horizon for Automotive Automation Manufacturing?
Many auto manufacturers have partnered with technology companies to keep abreast of the latest advancements. Just as we’re expecting more from our personal smart devices, we are also expecting more from the vehicles we drive. For example, almost all new vehicles come standard with hands-free calling for safety’s sake and robust navigation systems and entertainment such as satellite radio or a Bluetooth connection to your phone. Here are some more advancements you can expect in the upcoming years.
Drivers can now come to expect a personalized driving experience thanks to the role of machine learning in the auto industry. Some of these enhancements are increasingly standard, such as alerting the driver when the oil needs to be changed or tire pressure is too low. However, more in-depth AI algorithms can tailor the driving experience to match individual drivers with actions such as personalizing the vehicle interface, adjusting the seat, wheel, mirrors and pedal positions.
Self-driving cars may not be ready to hit the market yet, especially in Canada, but the technology is being tested and improved upon nonetheless. Using an abundance of cameras and AI, autonomous cars determine the distance between objects and use the data to build a picture in order to avoid pedestrians, cyclists, other cars, and obstructive objects. The trouble with bringing these cars into use is that they require many hours of driving data on the road before taking on human passengers, so all the kinks can be worked out ahead of time.
The Internet of Things is a system of interconnected devices that don’t require human-to-human interaction. This translates to navigation systems that take voice commands, hands-free text controls, and personalized experiences in cars. In more advanced cases, IoT in autonomous cars is being used to communicate vehicle-to-vehicle, sharing driving data and recognize patterns.
Advancements in automotive lighting technology have ramped up in recent years. Many new models of cars are adding adaptive lighting technology that will auto-adjust to lighting conditions, without blinding other drivers on the road. This new tech has reduced the incidence of night-time accidents by lighting more areas of the road ahead, and to the sides. 5-chip LED lights also boast ‘around the corner’ lighting, while laser headlight technology can let you see up to 600 meters ahead of you on the road, doubling the distance of regular LED headlamps.
Alternative energy sources are becoming more mainstream, and electric vehicles are increasingly in demand. Advancements in battery life, the distance between charges, and the adoption of electric vehicle charging stations in major cities have made this choice more palatable to modern consumers. The cost of purchasing an electric vehicle has also become more accessible, especially when compared to rising gasoline prices. With more top auto brands releasing electric vehicle selections, this market is set to boom over the next few years.
For those consumers still worried about EV charge times holding them back, the hydrogen fuel cell EV may be the ticket. Commuters or on-the-road salespeople may not be able to carve out a 2-hour charge time in their busy day. The hydrogen fuel cell can solve this problem. Yes, it’s an electric car, but instead of relying on Lithium-Ion batteries to charge, an on-board energy bank full of hydrogen can be refilled in 3 minutes flat – and last for 500km.
Advanced Robotic Automation
Rounding back to automotive automation machines, the biggest advancements in this field that are hitting the market and being adopted more and more are:
Inspecting work, testing, analyzing – all of these things can be achieved by robots that are equipped with machine vision. This helps eliminate the need for human intervention and speeds production times even further. Robots who are equipped with machine vision technology can use advanced processes such as infrared imaging, hyperspectral imaging, X-ray imaging and line-scan imaging. The image that is captured is then analyzed by specialized analysis software within the machine, ensuring precision each time.
Collaborative robots can work independently using AI, yet may still require some human interaction for programming or working on a project together. Co-bots use in the auto industry has propelled certain manufacturers above their competitors due to speed, precision and targeted outcomes.
The overall trajectory of automotive automation has soared since its inception and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. As robotic technology advances further, manufacturers can benefit from embracing this technology as well as the changing landscape of customer demand.
Innovative Automation and The Future of Automation
Innovative Automation has over 30 years of experience in automotive, automated assembly systems, and test systems. In the automotive industry, we provide manufacturers with the tools they need for robotic automation.
We are experts in a wide variety of manufacturing automation applications including assembly automation, testing automation, robotics and welding. Contact us today to discuss how a sustainable manufacturing automation solution can help your business.