Robotics Across the Auto Industry: The Present is the Future

No matter how you feel about it, it’s best to be prepared for the impact of robotics across the auto industry. We take an inside look at some of the coolest inventions hard at work.

Are robots destined to run the world? Will they steal all of our jobs? Will we be subjugated, forced to live out our days toiling away in pitch-black underground caverns while a robot president calls the shots?

Hmmm, too early to say… But soon, cars will drive themselves. (Alright, technically robots will be driving them.) Whether that terrifies or excites you, it’s simply a soon-to-be fact.

The future is anybody’s guess, really. But one thing is for certain: there are useful robotics throughout the automotive industry, and they’re here to stay. In the economy at large, robotics are set to alter 95% of all jobs in some way in the coming years. And soon, that number will rise—from production, to operation, and everywhere in between. They may not all have the tender likability of WALL-E, or Johnny5’s knack for a well-placed one-liner, but we’d better get used to ‘em.

Unless an international game of nuclear volleyball spikes us back into the Bronze Age, robots aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. And despite all the recent press, they’ve been holding down industry jobs for quite awhile. Here’s what just a few of them are up to.

Painting Robotics

For auto manufacturers, robots improve their product’s quality and consistency while reducing warranty costs. And although robots are relatively new in some fields, in others they have been counted on for decades. One area in which robots are consistently in business is painting. Replacing their inferior hydraulic predecessors, these machines have been evolving since the early 1980s and keep humans out of a hazardous air quality situation. Breathing fumes isn’t toxic if you don’t have lungs…

Robotic Hands

Think that auto manufacturers only use robots on an assembly line? Humans in the biz are all but extinct? Think again. Robots need to be compatible with the people they work alongside, and give them a helping hand now and then. Like, a literal helping hand. A company called Equipois has developed the X-Ar Arm for just that purpose.

Repetitive tasks that require a human touch, like wheel installation, can be taxing over time. The X-Ar Arm is an exoskeletal bionic hand that fits like a glove over a human hand. It adds up to 10 pounds of gripping force for the worker, and has been used by GM for a number of years. Welcome to the future.

Finishing Touches/Robots Collaborate With People

Helpful though they may be, many people still worry about a robot stealing their job one day. I saw the so-so movie Passengers, (starring the definitely not so-so Jennifer Lawrence), and was instantly certain that my moonlighting bartender gig would be handled by a genial drone with a British accent in no time.

Between 2010 and 2015, the auto industry installed 135,000 robots in various tasks, according to therobotreport.com. And during that same time frame, the number of employees in the automotive sector increased by 230,000. The moral of the story? Working with new technology means more work. Period.

That’s why automakers like BMW are developing robots. Not to replace humans, but to give them assistance. Like the ones they are using for the final steps of car door installation. After the door is applied by human workers, robots add the finishing touch. It adds the door sealant, keeping out sound and water—and keeping men and women gainfully employed, and un-resentful.

Welding/Robots Collaborating With Robots

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the purpose of the assembly line has been a smooth, collaborative process toward a finished product. We’ve seen people work with one another to achieve this for decades. More recently, we’ve seen people working alongside robots to get the job done. And impressively, even robots working alongside other robots in a division of tasks can streamline production further still.

Great Wall Motors (GWM), the fast-growing Chinese automaker, is proof. Their much-praised assembly line features 30 stations and 27 different robots, communicating harmoniously. Handling robots will place a panel on the line with exact precision. Then, welding tasks will be performed by a completely separate robot. All in all, this line performs over 4,000 welding operations in less than a minute and a half. It’s true that folk hero John Henry died in glorious victory against the machines destined to take his job. But rest assured, it certainly wasn’t these machines that he defeated.

And there’s a lot more where that came from. Join us in a few weeks as our team dives into nontraditional use of robotics across the auto industry. Hint: it includes car dealerships, vending machines, and even semi-trucks.

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