Ford Using KUKA Robot at Automotive Facility for 3D Printing

"Javier" is picking and moving 3D printed parts at a Ford facility in Michigan.


The new robot is so well liked by facility staff, they gave it a nickname.
Productivity has increased since Ford installed a KUKA robot at is advanced manufacturing facility in Redford, Mich. The robot is being used to move 3D printed parts.

To help it move and assemble 3D-printed parts, Ford is taking advantage of a cobot on wheels developed by KUKA Systems Corp. at its Ford Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Mich. 

The company said the robot is always on time, precise, and only needs to take short breaks to recharge. Ford’s additive manufacturer operators even gave it a name – “Javier.”  While the process itself is autonomous, Ford operators are responsible for uploading 3D designs to the printer and maintaining the machinery, and for engineering new ways to use the technology.

All night long

The KUKA robot lets Ford operate its 3D printers even after employees have left for the day. Not only does this increase throughput, it reduces the cost of custom-printed products, the company said.   Ford has used the printer to make low-volume, custom parts, such as a brake line bracket for the Performance Package-equipped Mustang Shelby GT500.

The company said the robot is integral to the company’s development of an industry-first process to operate 3D carbon printers with an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) rather than a fixed, stationary unit.

“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 at Ford. “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.”

Ford's KUKA robot.

A 3D printed part that the KUKA robot has moved. Source: Ford 

Greater accuracy and efficiency

Ford said it has achieved great accuracy with Javier, using his feedback to significantly reduce margins of error.

In its drive to innovate, Ford has filed several patents related to the overall process, communication interfaces and precise positioning of the robot, which does not require use of a camera vision system to “see.”

Typically, different pieces of equipment from various suppliers are unable to interact because they do not run the same communication interface. Ford said it has developed an application interface program (API) that allows different pieces of equipment to “speak the same language,” and send constant feedback to each other.

For example, the carbon 3D printer tells the robot when the printed product will be finished, then the robot lets the printer know the robot has arrived and is ready for pick-up, the company said.

Ford is using a robot developed by KUKA to help it print 3D parts for vehicles.

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The new robot is so well liked by facility staff, they gave it a nickname.

Robot Technologies