As one of the global market leaders for automation in the automotive industry, KUKA is already a partner to many OEMs in their first steps towards electromobility. In addition to battery production itself, our portfolio also includes the assembly of electric drives and electric axle components through to complete body-in-white production for electric vehicles.
There are now numerous different drive technologies. How do you still manage to establish automation solutions and test systems in production?
Robot-based automation is fundamentally independent of the task or the product that is to be automated. This means that KUKA is able to develop a suitable automation solution for the various drive technologies and for different manufacturers. To this end, KUKA has in-house solutions at the ready, such as our robots, AGVs and engineering services.
KUKA offers modular, flexible and scalable automation. What does that mean exactly?
Increasing product diversity, more frequent model changes and strongly fluctuating batch sizes require maximum flexibility and adaptability, today's core requirements for production systems. KUKA has developed a visionary new production concept for this purpose, "Matrix Production": an extremely versatile production system. Dynamic system interlinking with personnel-safe automated guided vehicles ensures greater flexibility and open floor space. The separation of logistics and production enables variable parts logistics. And last but not least, modularity: modular production stations ensure production cells that can be configured and expanded at any time.
With Matrix Production, you succeed in "the production of tomorrow". What is so promising about this?
The ability to manufacture different products on the same line down to a batch size of 1, managed by a centralized system controller that offers the customer maximum flexibility. Individualized production thus reaches a dimension never before achieved.
What challenges do you see facing the automotive industry in general? What is undergoing fundamental change?
The transformation of the automotive industry is in full swing worldwide. As a result, the ability to plan for the automotive market has become much more complex. The development of new drive concepts is a high priority for all OEMs - but consumer acceptance of these new approaches is almost impossible to calculate and requires maximum flexibility and reaction speed on the part of both automakers and suppliers. The diversity of model and drive variants and the number of globally active automakers will increase. This will have an impact on the entire Tier-1 supplier market, but also on the supply infrastructure, for example, refueling stations and raw material sources for batteries.
How is KUKA positioned for the future as a partner to all leading OEMs?
The KUKA Group's global presence is an essential key to successfully working with automotive manufacturers here. The exchange of technology within the KUKA Group using digital technologies ensures optimal project handling with almost all OEMs worldwide. Close collaboration with the OEMs' development departments and with automotive-related institutes enables KUKA to enter the automotive industry's new technologies as early as possible. KUKA already has key technologies on offer for almost all tasks.
Change for the fifth industrial revolution
Germany and Europe are striving for nothing less than climate-friendly mobility. This increases demands on speed, flexibility, profitability and value creation. What important role can technology in production generally play here?
Technologies and concepts used must be optimally adapted to rapidly changing conditions. Efficiency and quality, but also social and ecological aspects are becoming increasingly important here. Close cooperation with R&D facilities and the use of digital technologies can bring decisive advantages here.
Conventional production lines for automobiles are not transferable to the manufacture of electrified powertrains. What challenges do OEMs and suppliers like KUKA face here?
Electricity and gasoline are fundamentally different, and not only technologically: batteries require increased safety measures; seamless monitoring, and documentation in production become necessary. Projects become more dynamic and developments faster. Supply chains, dependencies and the competitive environment are changing.
Together with your partner Webasto, you have created one of the most modern production systems for battery systems. What is special about this system?
With this highly flexible Multi-Product-Line, we ensure high product quality with maximum versatility and efficiency. We achieve this by implementing various innovative concepts that we have developed in advance as part of our "Matrix Production", such as the decoupling of assembly stations by means of automated guided vehicle systems and the central picking of components by means of a "kiosk concept".
The new plant is not only space-saving, but also transparent - what does that mean with what advantages?
Careful process qualification as well as complete recording and transparency of all production data are necessary in order to quickly detect and correct deviations and - if necessary - to ensure the required traceability. Of course, transparency also helps to make maintenance and servicing work as efficient as possible.
Battery modules can also be used for other applications. Can you give examples?
In addition to the much-discussed electric cars, the commercial use of batteries is becoming more and more important economically. Commercial vehicles, such as delivery vehicles, buses or special vehicles, home storage for solar systems, storage for stabilizing power grids but also rail or marine applications are becoming more and more important.
You have been working in this field for many years. What excites you personally about the current revolutionary developments and how do you see the future?
Batteries are a key technology for the decarbonization of the energy industry, which has no alternative in the medium term, as regenerative energy sources predominantly produce electricity that also needs to be stored. This change can certainly be seen as a fifth industrial revolution that is already taking shape, because the impact on technologies and global structures will be very far-reaching. It is exciting to witness this and a source of pride to be able to contribute to it.