“Who’s riding so late where winds blow wild”?

By Nico Fritz 
No, you’re not in school class. This article is about simplified experimental models of a planned product or component – in short prototypes. But what has the world-famous ballad “Erlkönig” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to do with prototype construction? What advantages does this have and which prototypes are built at KUKA? We did some research.

Prototypes in the press for the first time

Prototypes first became the focus of the press in the 1950s, when Heinz-Ulrich Wieselmann, editor-in-chief of the automobile magazine “auto motor und sport”, and his colleague, automobile historian Werner Oswald, published a picture of an actually secret automobile prototype in every issue from 1952 without asking. According to Oswald, these images were then considered an “unprecedented provocation of the automotive industry”. For this reason, the two decided to accompany the publication series with small eight-line poems in the style of the Erlkönig “to sweeten the bitter pill for the concerned industrial companies a little”. Since the category was baptized “Erlkönig”, from then on every prototype in the magazine was described as such. The first episode dealt with the Mercedes-Benz 180.

The automotive industry reacted by designing various camouflages for the “Erlkönige”. From camouflage films to full coverings and the integration of new technologies into older models, all means are used to ensure confidentiality.


Prototypes at KUKA

In contrast to the “prototype cars”, KUKA prototypes do not leave the company premises. Expensive camouflage is therefore not necessary in the in-house workshop. “We in the department must ensure the assembly process. Questions must be clarified as to whether certain devices are needed in production and how the workplaces must be staffed,” explains Sören Papsdorf, head of the Assembly Process Development department.

The prototypes are produced with 3D printers. The thermoplastic, biodegradable plastic polylactide (PLA), which rests in wire form on a roll, is melted at 215°C and applied layer by layer. This is how individual robot components are made of plastic. “We can perfect the installation of the cable sets on the prototype, for example, so that the assembly process runs smoothly in the subsequent series production of the product,” Papsdorf describes.

KUKA “Erlkönige” already exist from various robot models. Project runtimes can be reduced by four to six weeks using prototypes – a major advantage of process development. When the products go into series production, the prototypes are no longer important. But as opposed to Goethe’s story, not every prototype “dies” in its father’s arms, but is allowed to live on as a converted desk lamp for special occasions.

Read more about 3D printing: https://www.blog.kuka.com/2018/03/20/schnelle-entwicklung-schicht-fuer-schicht-mit-3d-druck/?lang=en

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