Project Aim


Ford Motor Company (FMC) aimed to use collaborative robots (cobots) for quality checking engine wiring harnesses at its Dagenham engine plant.

When correctly implemented, cobots are able to work in the same workspace as operators without having a safety guard separating the operator and cobot. However, to enable collaborative work processes, safety must be thoroughly assessed to prevent any potential hazards to the operator.

HSSMI has developed the Risk Assessment for Collaborative Environment (RACE) tool that can virtually assess risks to operators in a workstation. With their knowledge and experience in cobots, HSSMI was able to support FMC to implement the cobot systems on their shop floor.

This work directly addresses HSSMI’s productivity pillar, as it reduces cobot implementation time and cost but more importantly improves product quality. This enables the operator to correct any fitting issues before engine testing and allows paperless record keeping of quality issues.

This work was a follow up from a successful feasibility study completed by HSSMI in 2018 as part of the CDC service that included technology assessments and demonstrated the work process. More information on that here: https://hssmi.org/works/cobot-design-and-certification-cdc-for-ford-motor-company/

The Challenge


Currently, Ford engine wiring harnesses are fitted with Connector Position Assurance (CPA) locking mechanisms to ensure cables are fitted correctly. Any poorly fitted CPA connectors are only identified during the “End of Line” testing stage. To make the correction before the final stage, Ford aimed to introduce an automated CPA quality inspection cobot system to the shop floor. To integrate the cobot system into the assembly line there were a number of safety challenges that needed to be overcome.

HSSMI’s objectives in this project were to optimise the cobot process using the RACE tool and analyse the cobot path using virtual simulation to ensure, before installation, that the cobot system would:

- Reduce or eliminate hazards to operators or surrounding assets.

- Ensure that any potential collisions with an operator did not exceed the force and pressure limits in compliance with Health & Safety guidelines.

- Scan and verify all connectors within the station takt time.

This enabled Ford to:

- Gain prior approval of the cobot system from relevant teams and stakeholders through viewing the simulation, assessing risks and process virtually.

- Reduce system implementation time and cost.

The Solution


The solution proposed by HSSMI included:

The RACE tool was instrumental in identifying risks within the human robot collaborative environment. The simulation enabled risk analysis involving all stakeholders and optimising the cobot process in rapid times. This produced a virtually verified cobot program that reduced time and costs testing on the real system. Additionally, the simulation helped identify the key measuring points, which enabled more precise set up of the testing devices in the real world. This in turn reduced the overall testing time necessary.

Overall, this project provided clear benefits to both Ford and the robot integrator, reducing risks, time and cost associated with implementing collaborative robots.

The work carried out by HSSMI enabled Ford to commission the cobot system at their shop floor. The cobot inspection system is currently in the introduction phase at Ford Dagenham engine assembly line and will be operating in the production line in the near future.

The Approach


To assess cobot risks and reduce or eliminate these potential risks, HSSMI followed a systematic approach:

1. A detailed design risk assessment of the human-robot collaboration was carried out with the RACE tool. The tool enabled HSSMI to calculate cobot speed ensuring compliance with ISO/TS 15066 standards.

2. Using the resulting cobot speed and workstation CAD model, a simulation was carried out in Visual Components®. This enabled HSSMI to optimise the cobot path with further reduction of risks.

3. The simulation data was shared with the robot integrator to test and implement the process on the real cobot system on the shop floor.

4. These steps were reiterated until the optimum cobot path had been defined.

Through physical testing of the system using a force and pressure measurement tool, additional safety features were required to perform the task safely. Pads were added to cobot joints to soften any impacts with the operator. The result shows that with addition of pads, any collision force and pressure were within the ISO/TS 15066 standard. Overall, the output from the simulation provided a health & safety confident cobot process, that could easily be exported and implemented on the real cobot.