Apple, apricot or pear – the KUKA “Robutt” in test use at Ford

Whether the shape of an apple, an apricot or a pear – with the human bottom the variety is large. It is therefore even more difficult to produce a seat for all kinds of variants that is comfortable for everyone and can withstand even the longest car journeys.

Have you ever wondered why car seats are so robust? The answer: Because they are tested until they are perfect. But how does that happen? Certainly, one could instruct employees with different buttocks to test the seat until the first signs of wear appear. But one can also choose the efficient variant and leave the monotonous testing to the expert in the field of monotonous work: the robot. This is exactly what happens at the Ford plants in Merkenich near Cologne. Two KUKA robots test the new Ford car seats around 25,000 times using a wide variety of load profiles when getting in and out of the car. That’s what earned them the nickname “Robutts”

The car seat: contact point between man and car

When it comes to the seating comfort of its customers, the American automobile Ford manufacturer takes it very seriously. If new seats are developed, they must undergo a strict quality test. When we sit in the car, the seat gives us the feeling of comfort and quality from the very first moment and is therefore the largest contact point between man and vehicle. Car seats are therefore among the most frequently tested components.

The big challenge is to take a close look at the seats throughout the entire process. How do people get into their cars? What forces result from this? How do the size and stature of the people affect the seats and material? The automobile manufacturer answers these questions in a fully automated process. Ford simulates the use of the seats with a KUKA robot from the KR QUANTEC series. The dummy OccuForm, which loads the car seat and records the points of contact and the force/displacement curves, is attached to the robot arm of the OccuForm – the entire system is called KUKA OccuBot.

 The KUKA OccuBot enters and exits the car 25,000 times in three weeks

The newly equipped seat test laboratory with two KUKA robots at the development center offers the possibility of carrying out all tests together at one location and in-house.

To be able to carry out a quality test that is as comprehensive as possible, Ford first analyses how people get in and out of cars. For this purpose, pressure mats placed on the seats record detailed information. Every person loads a car seat in a different way, so the seat must fit every shape of bottom – whether apple, apricot or pear.

Ten years of leaving and entering the car

The data images obtained in this way are then reproduced with the KUKA robot, which uses the data obtained to push the dummy into the seat with its gripper attachment. In other words, the KUKA OccuBot intensively simulates various load scenarios during the approximately three-week test phase, and the dummy enters and exits the system approx. 25,000 times. In a relatively short time, wear and tear can be simulated and analyzed over a ten-year period. If the seat stands up to these tests and shows no severe damage or contour changes, the seats go into production and are equipped for even the longest car journeys.

The test procedure has already been extended to all new vehicles in European production under the motto “smart vehicles for a smart world”. The quality of the products always comes first. Ford is therefore planning the expansion of the robot test application. There are already plans for endurance tests on flaps, switches and doors – of course with robot-based support.

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