After working at Ford’s Powertrain plant in Cologne, Germany, for several years, Dietmar Browner saw his job become more difficult due to repeated health problems that reduced mobility in his shoulders and wrists. Now, though, thanks to a little robot pet that he named “Robbie the Cobot”, Browner is able to do more.
“Over the years, my work has become harder and harder for me,” Browner said. “Then, this little robot comes and, to me, it’s like holding an extra arm – a very strong extra arm.”
Together, the pair works to attach the round cover to the engine. Browner puts two covers in a holder, then tells Robbie to pick them up and push them firmly into place. This, in turn, allows people to enter and move the covers down the line by screwing them in place.
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And they are working together as part of an 18-month trial period that has been so successful that Ford is now keeping Robbie at the plant on a permanent basis. The project may involve the installation of more cobwebs in the manufacturing facility to expand the working opportunities of the more diverse range of people.
Browner and Robbie have been particularly helpful in this regard because their colleagues have proven that robots can operate safely without protective devices or safety barriers. Robbie moves only when Browner activates it and has sensors that can tell, for example, when a human hand is on the way.
“We’ve created a unique human-centered workplace for the industry,” said Matthias Hussein, a professor at RWTH Aachen University who worked with Ford to develop Robbie the Cobot. “Following the success of this project, we are now implementing such workplaces in other projects, especially for persons with disabilities. Suddenly, the possibilities for human-cobalt cooperation seem endless. “
For Brauner, meanwhile, the project has meant a huge amount.
“It has changed everything,” he said. “I hope this gives others like me the opportunity to do what they love, or to continue doing it.”
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