Ford Motor is experimenting with four-legged robots at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Michigan, as a part of it’s manufacturing pilot program designed to save time, decrease cost and increase efficiency.
The robots are geared up with five cameras, can travel up to 3 mph on a battery lasting almost two hours, and will be used to scan the plant floor and help engineers in updating the original Computer-Aided Design which is to retool their plants.
The robots have three operational gaits, one is a walk for stable ground, an amble for uneven terrain, and the last one is a special speed for stairs. They can switch positions from a crouch to a stretch, which permits them to be deployed to difficult-to-reach areas in the plant. They can handle tough terrain, from grates to steps to 30-degree inclines. If they drop, they can right themselves. They maintain a safe, set distance from objects to avoid collisions.
Discussing their new pilot program, Mark Goderis, Ford’s digital engineering manager stated that by having the robots scan the facility, the company can see what it actually looks like now and build a new engineering model. He also said that the digital model is then used when the company needs to retool the plant for new products.
The team used to use a tripod earlier and walk around the facility stopping at different locations, each time they would stand for five minutes waiting for the laser to scan. Scanning one plant could take two weeks but with robots, they can do it in half the time.
On the other hand, the old way cost almost $300,000 to scan one facility but if this pilot works, the automaker’s manufacturing team could scan all its plants for a fraction of the cost. These technologies can help conserve the company money and retool facilities quicker, ultimately helping bring new vehicles to market sooner.
The automaker’s intent is also to be able to manage the robots remotely, programming them for plant missions and getting reports immediately from anywhere in the country. At this moment, the robots can be programmed to follow a particular path and can be operated from up to 50 meters away with the application.