Written By: Rebecca D'Souza
KUKA Roboter GmbH is a member of KUKA Aktiengesellschaft and ranks among the world’s leading suppliers of industrial robots. In the past, these robots were used exclusively in the automotive sector and in series production. Over the years KUKA has established itself across a broad spectrum of markets in sectors outside of this industry, tapping into the fields of food, logistics, plastics, metalworking, foundry, electronics, medical technology and even the entertainment industry. It is also involved in applications for assembly, aerospace, glass and wood. “Arc-welding, bending, laser applications, polishing pots, stacking sacks of animal feed, unloading, palletising, running in extreme working conditions – and that is only a few cues what a KUKA robot can do in the manufacturing sector,” says KUKA.
KUKA believes automation is the key to tomorrow’s markets. “There are thousands of potential applications. The fields of application for a KUKA robot are diverse,” says KUKA. “Whether in a warehouse, in manufacturing or in dispatch, for loading and unloading, for handling or for direct processing of the work piece: the optimisation potential of KUKA robots can be put to work in every single phase,” it adds.
Building a KUKA robot
“The secret isn’t really a secret at all. Anyone who has ever taken a look behind the scenes is surprised at how little it seems to take to build a technological masterpiece,” says KUKA, which has been building robots for more than 30 years. These robots are manufactured in five steps, which include mechanical assembly, paint finish, electrical assembly, calibration and shipping. Each stage is divided into many individual operations. In 2002, KUKA Roboter introduced the KUKA Production System. Based on the principles of the Toyota Production System, KUKA has adopted this strategy to streamline its activities and reduce wastage on the production line. It has proved to have been a good move. In 2002, it took 23.5 days from printing the production order to delivery. Today, it takes just five working days. The company’s extensive investment in robot design has also paid dividends. Ten years ago 2,500 parts were used in a robot compared to the 750 that are needed today.
Thirteen thousand of these industrial robots are constructed every year on the production floor at KUKA Roboter GmbH in Augsburg-Lechhausen. In this space, which is smaller than the size of a football pitch, around 200 employees on the production workforce produce 300 KUKA robots each week. In two-shift operation, between 60 and 90 skilled workers from the fields of metal-working and electrical engineering work on the orange industrial machines – six days a week. “In three-shift operation, it would therefore be possible to produce 17,000 robots annually without encountering bottlenecks in capacity or space,” says KUKA.
The KUKA production experts switch their work stations on a weekly basis. “This rotation principle is a logistical challenge, requiring a production system built on individual operations that are as simple as possible, easy to understand, and yet demanding,” says KUKA. Each individual step in manufacturing a KUKA robot is clearly documented for each trained worker. “All production employees sign for each completed job, thereby assuming responsibility for their individual work sequences,” it adds. The rotating system guarantees that capacity can be smoothly adapted to meet customer requirements. The workers are assigned to the work stations where they are needed most urgently.
A quality product
All 750 parts of a KUKA robot are tested for quality during each step in the production process. This procedure is known as ‘Inprocess Control’. KUKA relies on the support of machines to guarantee quality control. “For example, the scales that guarantee calculated weights, power wrenches that know the correct torque, or oil filling stations that ensure an optimal oil charge,” says KUKA. “Our experts can guarantee that everything possible is done in manufacturing to ensure that the customer receives robots of the highest quality,” it adds.
This is also necessary because of the wide range of robot variants that the company produces. It offers countless variants, versions and expansion options for industrial robots. The KUKA range extends from a payload capacity of five to 1,300 kilograms. “Thanks to the KUKA modular system, the ten basic models can currently be produced in variants tailored to the customer’s requirements: with longer or shorter axes, for example, or as a shelf-mounted robot,” explains KUKA.