Spotlight on staff support
Success story Bosch Ansbach
The APAS assistant supports employees with routine tasks
Even in the most modern factories, routine tasks must be accomplished that are monotonous, ergonomically challenging, or even potentially hazardous. To relieve its employees from these tasks, the Bosch plant in Ansbach, Middle Franconia, has introduced four mobile production assistants, which work closely with their human “colleagues” on a shift schedule.
Within a partly automated production line, they help with loading and unloading automated production stations, and with transporting the components: EPS control units for automotive steering systems. These components are manufactured and tested at the plant – a process that is now largely automated thanks to the robots, which work directly beside their human counterparts without any special protective barriers.
Safety for employees and products alike
At Bosch’s plant in Ansbach, the APAS assistant handles one of the (literally) hottest jobs: during the final electrical testing, the EPS control units are placed in a testing chamber and exposed to extreme heat to measure their temperature resistance. In the past, employees had to place the parts in the chamber, and remove them after testing. But especially removing them was an extremely uncomfortable task – as anyone who has ever taken foil-wrapped potatoes out of hot coals will surely agree. Now the production assistants take over this job. The heat doesn’t bother them in the slightest: they withstand the high temperatures with the unwavering precision of machines.
The employee can concentrate on the essentials
Always at their side: human operators. In Ansbach, humans and robots work hand in hand in a comparatively small space: the APAS assistant grasps the EPS module and places it in the chamber, removes it after testing and passes it on to the employee. As a result, employees no longer have to worry about the high temperatures, or the at times monotonous work involved in taking the parts in and out of the testing chamber. “That’s a typical job for the APAS assistant,” explains Wolfgang Pomrehn, product manager for the APAS production assistants. “Especially when it comes to tasks that are monotonous, but still demand a high degree of alertness and precision, humans tire after a certain time, and are then more and more likely to make a mistake. Robot assistants can also lend a helping hand with tasks that are dangerous or involve ergonomically challenging movements, allowing employees to concentrate on what matters most.” One example is evaluating test results: in Ansbach, the decision as to whether a given component passes the quality control, or whether it has to be rejected, is still made by human beings.
More flexible human-machine interaction
The problem-solving skills of human beings on the one hand, and the tireless precision of the production assistants on the other: the Ansbach plant demonstrates the advantages of human-machine interaction. Human operators and robots can be employed variably at the same station, and support one another in shift operations. The fours APAS assistants can also easily adapt to changing production requirements, allowing the plant managers to choose from various operating scenarios, which they can quickly and easily implement. Whether two employees and an APAS assistant share the workload, two robots are used to support one employee, or three production assistants work together as an “island” to fully automate a specific production step – there are countless combinations, which also helps to cover peaks in production. Thanks to this new variability in human-machine interaction, companies are now better equipped to meet not only the changing production demands, but also one of the greatest societal challenges of tomorrow: demographic change.
The growing percentage of older employees calls for new approaches to organize work, especially when it comes to tasks that are physically demanding. As physical performance tends to decline with age, Bosch’s production assistants can help with precisely these processes – and be individually and flexibly tailored to the task at hand. While most industrial robots are specialized in only one or a few tasks and can hence only be employed in a specific area, the APAS assistant can be quickly and cost-efficiently adapted for new duties. Using a dialog-based, intuitive control panel, employees can “teach” them new skills without the need for special programming expertise, and record them in the form of new routines that can be called up as needed. In Ansbach this principle has worked so well that preliminary assessments of expanding the four APAS assistants’ duties are currently underway.