Robot uprising a step closer with plan for factory where they build themselves

If the dreaded robot uprising is ever going to happen, it will soon have a base where it can manufacture its army … a place where robots will be making robots.

Located in the Chinese city of Shanghai, the $150 million factory is being built by Swiss industrial technology giant ABB. It claims the facility will be “the most advanced, automated, and flexible robotics factory in the world,” describing it as “a cutting-edge center where robots make robots.”

The ambitious plan, unveiled by the company last week, is to combine ABB’s connected digital technologies, collaborative robotics, and artificial intelligence (A.I.) research to create a highly sophisticated “factory of the future” that will produce around 100,000 robots a year.

To make optimal use of the 75,000-square-foot facility, ABB’s factory will use a so-called “flexible floorplan” using interlinked islands of automation rather than assembly lines that are fixed in place. Such a setup will enable production to adapt more easily to developments in China’s robot market without the need for additional capacity expansions, the company said.

Robots making robots

A big part of the design is the incorporation of ABB’s SafeMove2 software, which allows humans and robots to work safely alongside one another in an industrial setting.

The setup will include areas where the company’s advanced YuMi robots work closely with human workers on many of the more intricate assembly tasks that are required to make an ABB robot.

robots to make at one of the worlds most advanced facilities abb yumi robot
ABB’s very clever YuMi robot. ABB

YuMi’s remarkable skills gained worldwide recognition in 2017 when the dual-arm robot successfully conducted an entire orchestra. If that isn’t impressive enough, then take note — YuMi is accurate enough to thread a needle with its robotic hands, and can be taught a new task by being physically guided through it, thereby doing away with the need for time-consuming code-based instruction.

“I think we’re truly making history and writing the future of robotics applications,” ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer said at the time.

The Zurich-based firm claims to already be the top robotics manufacturer in China, a country that bought one in three robots sold globally in 2017.

With many years of experience, ABB appears well placed to make a success of its factory, which is expected to go into operation by the end of 2020.

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