People work side by side with robots at the Wolfsburg plant. Robotics expert Johannes Teiwes from the Smart Production Lab programs the software for these applications. Part 4 of a series about IT jobs at Volkswagen.
At first glance the action in hall 54 of Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg plant resembles that of many other engine assembly lines. Employees are mounting, inserting and bolting various components and elements into place. The line is moving, with Golf engines going by at regular intervals. So far it all looks standard.
Upon closer inspection, however, it’s apparent that not only people are involved in performing the precision tasks. One of the workers is made of plastic and metal – a robot that assembles engines.
Volkswagen at CEBIT 2018
Volkswagen is a digital company that drives modern information technology forward. In the run-up to CEBIT in Hanover, we are presenting a series of portraits of people in the Group with exciting IT jobs. At CEBIT (June 11-15), the Volkswagen Group will be in the Future Mobility Hall (Hall 25) offering a forum for interested parties and experts alike – with stimulating presentations and first-class exhibits as well as interesting panel discussions and talks. The range of topics and highlights is considerable and includes not only new forms of digital automotive design, quantum computing and test projects with Blockchain, but also applied artificial intelligence in the company and data-supported traffic optimization in European metropolises. There will also be a world premiere at the exhibition stand.
This type of production, where employees and robotic tools work side by side without any protective barriers, is known as human-robot collaboration (HRC). HRC places high demands not only on safety. Robots that work so closely together with people also require considerable knowledge and skills. “More and more sensors are being installed in robots these days,” says Teiwes. “That requires a new type of programming, and poses some challenges for us at IT.”
Teiwes and his colleagues wrote the software for this application, so one could say they breathed digital life into the machine. Teiwes (34) works at the Smart Production Lab of Volkswagen Group IT in Wolfsburg. The term “lab” here makes perfect sense, because the team does intensive research on robotics. And not only on that. The approximately 30 experts working there – primarily computer scientists but also industrial engineers and business specialists – study how robots learn and how they can be integrated into production processes in intelligent ways. They are also active in many other important areas related to digitalization in production. “Our work focuses on smart technologies used in production, always from the perspective of software development,” explains Teiwes. Major topics include the Internet of Things and self-driving vehicles for intralogistics applications.
Teiwes studied systems engineering at the University of Bremen, a field that combines elements of electronics, information technology, production engineering, mechanical engineering and process engineering. He deepened his knowledge of HRC at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). “I quickly realized that I wanted to specialize in robotics,” he says. He was especially drawn to the interface between software and hardware. “It’s fascinating when simple robotics programs can lead to highly complex actions,” he remarks.
The robot that Teiwes and his colleagues programmed for the job on the assembly line is a never-ending source of fascination. It can identify engines on its own – whether combustion, GTI, TDI, etc. – and perform its task with speed and accuracy. Even more importantly, if one of its human colleagues gets too close, it registers that fact and stops moving. For safety is the highest priority here.
The team at the Smart Production Lab is already working on its next robot project. Known as MIRCO – which stands for Mobile Intelligent Robotic Co-Worker – it is a two-armed robot prototype on a mobile platform. Of special note here is that its creators are experimenting with human-like gripping technology. This type of robot can grasp heavy components, yet be just as effective at holding a single screw. “We humans are the best model for it,” says Teiwes with a smile.