What kind of robots are to be found at Škoda?
1. Stationary robots
Stationary robots are mainly used in industry. Their arms operate only in a certain predefined space. And it is by the type of space that they are categorised: the constraints are determined by the robot’s design, axis arrangement, length and number of arms. Cartesian robots move in perpendicular axes and their working space is a cube or a block, while cylindrical robots cover an imaginary cylinder or sphere.
The stationary KUKA robot is most commonly found in welding shops.
SCARA (Selective Compliant Articulated Robot Arm)
This is a cylindrical robot that consists mainly of rotary axes. It is small, fast and precise, making it suitable for handling and assembling components. It can also make fine adjustments to the part’s alignment.
The most common industrial robots are the angular or articulated ones. Six-axis industrial robots consist of two mechanical parts called the manipulator and the wrist: they allow the robot to not only reach out, but also to twist to the desired angle using the wrist. “Kuka robots are the most numerous in our welding shops, with over two and a half thousand of them. They are followed by robots from the Japanese manufacturer Fanuc, and sixty robots from the Swedish brand ABB have recently been deployed. We select suppliers according to set standards in cooperation with the Volkswagen Group. They must support our technologies, from handling to resistance or laser moulding. We then upload our own software libraries into the machines. No robot is single-purpose – each is programmed to handle all tasks,” explains Čejka.
A typical application for the six-axis angular industrial robot at Škoda is resistance welding of the bodywork. There are thousands of welding points on the body. Each welding point is executed by the robot with repeatable precision to within a tenth of a millimetre. In addition, the robots are equipped with a balancing function that allows them to adjust the position of the welding pliers relative to the metal sheet and thus compensate for any inaccuracies.
2. Service robots
Service robots are non-industrial assistants that are not intended for production but to help a person in certain activities. In other words, they provide services to people and equipment – such as robotic vacuum cleaners.
Robotic vacuum cleaners are not only used in homes.
3. Wheeled robots
These are not fixed in place and their job is to move freely on wheels or tracks. They differ mainly in terms of the number of wheels used and their arrangement - the aim is for the robot to be able to overcome various obstacles in its environment. The design of the wheels themselves is also important, for example the size and cladding. Since the robots move around, they have to have a navigation system. These robots can perform all sorts of tasks – like collecting samples on Mars. But they are commonly used in industry, for example in the form of AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles).
AGV carts automatically transport components to where they are needed, for example.
AGVs are the largest robotic assistant in Škoda logistics. They help transport parts from the warehouse to the production line. Unmanned forklift trucks can load a pallet of parts directly onto the line. The forklifts communicate wirelessly with the line control, because they need to receive a message that they can safely load the pallet.
4. Walking robots
These use legs and feet to move around. They often mimic the walking style of humans or animals, and are sometimes called hopping robots. These types of movement allow them to negotiate difficult terrain better. The biggest challenge for the designer is the robust and fast mathematical apparatus of the control system that can keep the robot balanced and synchronise all its limbs so the robot does not fall or stumble. Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot, for example, which can do parkour and flips, falls into this category.
Walking robot dog
Walking robots are not widely used in the industry, but even so you can also come across them at Škoda. As part of the digital factory project, various mobile platforms are being tested that could scan production equipment in order to synchronise a digital model with reality. For this purpose, the possibility of deploying a robotic dog or spider, for example, was tested in cooperation with the Czech Technical University in Prague.
5. Specialised robots
“The last category of robots isn’t defined; for our purposes we can call them specialised. They include robots designed for some specific skill. Some can swim, fly or work in swarms, others are as small as atoms. These nano robots might one day be able to help eliminate cancer cells in human bodies, for example. Some robots can fight on battlefields, others help clean our homes,” Čejka says. Another interesting application is the exo-skeleton, a functional structure which can be worn by people to increase their strength, improve work ergonomics or even replace missing limbs.
Some industrial manufacturing makes use of drones these days.
“We can say that our robots work in a swarm in the welding shop. The robots communicate with each other and graciously give each other right of way if they are in danger of colliding. It could also happen that a robot flies over your head. Škoda has been testing autonomous drones in logistics. Machines and manipulators to improve work ergonomics are also common in assembly. Collaborative robots that share a workspace with a human and are not separated by any mechanical barrier could also fall into this category. Robots like this help us perform glueing or measure the dimensions of parts,” concludes Čejka.
At Škoda, robots working in “swarms” are mainly found in welding shops.