Ford recently announced that its Advanced Manufacturing Center created an interface which allows machines from separate suppliers to effectively communicate with each other and operate parts of the company’s production line autonomously.


It's true that automotive companies have been utilizing robotics for years in order to reduce production expenses and improve efficiency. However, Ford’s new system introduces the potential for incredibly enhanced productivity via using robots to operate 3D printers through the night without requiring human interaction.


“This new process has the ability to change the way we use robotics in our manufacturing facilities,” said Jason Ryska, director, global manufacturing technology development. “Not only does it enable Ford to scale its 3D printer operations, it extends into other aspects of our manufacturing processes – this technology will allow us to simplify equipment and be even more flexible on the assembly line.”


Javier, the official name given to the autonomous robot from supplier KUKA, can work the 3D printer without stopping or needing human engagement, even after employees have clocked out for the night. Ford has said that the robots are constantly learning from the 3D printer data to help the company achieve more accuracy and reduce error rates.


Ford’s new system is truly innovative in that this is the first time the Carbon 3D printers and the KUKA robots can effectively communicate with each other, creating great potential for other machines that are part of the production process to be further incorporated and optimized. So far, the autonomous system has helped develop low-volume, custom car parts such as the brake line bracket for the Mustang Shelby GT500.


“This new process has the ability to change the way we use robotics in our manufacturing facilities,” Jason Ryska, director, global manufacturing technology development, said in a statement.


“At Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, Javier is tasked with operating the 3D printers completely on his own,” Ford said in a statement. “He is always on time, very precise in his movements, and he works most of the day – taking only a short break to charge up.”


In most cases, equipment bought from different suppliers are not able to interact because they use different communication interfaces. But Ford’s system allows equipment from different suppliers to understand each other, sending commands and feedback in real time for improved efficiency and accuracy.


Ford has already filed many patents for the technology that makes its communication interfaces and the precise positioning of robots work so well. While the process itself is autonomous, Ford operators are still responsible for uploading 3D designs to the printer and maintaining the machinery, and of course for engineering new ways to incorporate and use the technology. 

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