Automotive Robots Can Make Mistakes
Even robots have bad days. My son Jay recently reported that he has seen an increase in poorly applied OE urethane beads on General Motors vehicles. He noted OE beads on a variety of new cars and trucks, irrespective of part number or model, have lately been inconsistent and in some cases missing inches of product.
We have all seen some OE issues with urethane beads. Some have been over lapped sloppily and caused a channel for air or water to penetrate. Some had the bead not touch the glass surface. Some have been so thin that it was a wonder that it held the glass or sealed at all, or there was a small gap where the robot ran out of urethane. However, this is the first time I have heard of leaks from the OE where the bead was non-existent, where gaps were inches long. It is also the first time that I have seen this so wide spread across the entire line of vehicles and all glass parts.
This is not an installation concern because we will notice it and correct it immediately. As automotive glass technicians we recognize the error and correct the deficiency and move on. However, as a consumer, it does concern me that the quality of workmanship in bonding a safety device is so lax. It does concern me that the quality of workmanship, or robot programming, is such that a bead of urethane can be applied and the glass is set in place with gaps the size of a hot dog can pass inspection and be offered for sale.
We are living in an era of automated manufacturing. What does that mean? It means that machines make our products. The problem with machines is that they do only what they are told to do, no more no less. If a machine is told to pump urethane onto a piece of glass, then the machine will pump urethane onto the glass until told differently. If the urethane consistency is not right, the glass part is not in proper position, or the urethane supply is empty, the machine will still pump. If the machine is told to set the glass into the opening, it will set the glass into the opening whether there is adhesive applied or not. Is there a person to check and make sure the machines are doing their jobs, or are the inspectors thought of as a dispensable cost? We know the effort it takes to check our bead once the glass is installed. It takes contorting our bodies to look up behind the headliner or moldings and use our flashlights to see if the seal has been made. How many automated car manufacturers do that?
The same can be said for automotive glass manufacturers. Are there inspectors to make sure that the glass has the right curvature or dimensions? Some manufacturers employ numerous quality control inspectors along the manufacturing line to make sure things are going correctly. Other manufacturers don’t. When a problem arises with the automated systems there needs to be someone there to make adjustments.
Have you seen this in the field? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to add to the discussion.
Please, don’t get me wrong. There is a place for automated systems for both efficiency and quality, but nothing beats a good pair of eyes, an analytical mind and a strong pair of hands to make adjustments when they are needed. It’s just the way I see it.