The automotive industry was very different a couple of years ago for robot makers such as ABB. Most vehicle manufacturers were focused on the same thing: how to optimize final assembly. "EVs changed everything," said Joerg Reger, who leads the Switzerland-based company's robot unit. "Now everybody is looking to fix the big problems instead of fine-tuning." The No. 1 challenge for EVs is cost, which ABB is addressing by making its robots more adaptable and more autonomous. Reger also told Automotive News Europe Correspondent Nick Gibbs why ABB is seeing a surge in investment from European automakers during a recent interview at the company's R&D center in Friedberg, Germany.
What is the biggest problem you are being asked to solve in automotive manufacturing today?
The biggest challenge our customers face is managing a broad range of variants. Carmakers offer all the different combustion types and now they have to decide whether to build plants for just electric cars or for all combustion types. Everybody has to be very, very flexible. This includes the production lines. We offer flexible cells with a standardized design supporting multiple applications, for example, for gluing, for sealing, for spot welding, for arc welding or for assembly. These cells are supplied by autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that bring the warehouse closer to the production line. In old plants you still see a lot of fixed conveyor technology. Is it possible now to do the work without changing tools, without stopping the line. That really improves takt [cycle] time, resulting in very high productivity regardless of how big the variances are. This drives down costs.