MTM – Work design productive and safe

Profitability vs. Health and Safety – When Is an HRC System Productive?

17 April 2018
Amberg Electronics Factory: Regional Meeting on Human/Robot Collaboration

The purpose of HRC systems is to combine the strengths of human beings with those of robots. But how can this be implemented practically? A number of answers were provided during the latest meeting of the MTM/IE regional group in Bavaria at the Siemens AG electronics factory in Amberg. The interest shown by more than 20 participants from very different sectors, ranging from automotive to engineering and plant construction and even medical engineering, was primarily on human/robot collaboration (HRC). This is also an issue at Siemens AG, as regional group leader Hans-Thomas Mai from Audi AG explained at the start of the meeting. During the tour of the factory, Dominik Sachsenhauser, the Productivity Manager at Siemens and the host, and the employee responsible for introducing HRC systems in Amberg, Matthias Siegler, passed on their initial experiences.

Prof. Dr. Peter Kuhlang, Head of the MTM Institute and the person who is responsible for the issue of HRC at MTM, opened the proceedings on this informative afternoon. Interacting with those attending the regional meeting, he focused on the process of designing work systems in the complex relationship between human beings and robots. According to Kuhlang, the sticking points are the health and safety of workers and speed at which humans and robots cooperate: If the human being enters the robot’s radius of action, the robot has to operate more slowly; the health and safety regulations and protecting the employee demand this. So what can be done to coordinate the tasks performed by humans and robots at an early stage so that both resources can work as productively and cost-effectively as possible? The answer to this question can be found in the specific work content and dividing it up between the human being and the robot.

Sensibly dividing up work content
Profitability vs. health and safety – this is where the question of the productivity of HRC systems is normally raised, Kuhlang said. Can HRC systems be more productive than manual assembly or hybrid systems? Perhaps, if the work content is sensibly divided up between the human being and robot in the early concept phase, the MTM expert added. The MTM process language can make a contribution at precisely this point and support the introduction of HRC systems. In the end, the goals associated with using MTM are relevant here: lower unit costs, higher product quality and improved ergonomics.

Bringing together two worlds with one language
What exactly has HRC to do with MTM? The starting point for ideas about an MTM-HRC process building block system is the fact that the movement model in the MTM basic movements is similar to the movement model for a robot. So why not describe the movements of a robot with MTM process building blocks too – i. e. extend the description of a process for a human being with an additional resource? "We’re developing a system that linguistically matches the MTM notation; we’re calculating the main times for particular types of robots and mapping both in an extended MTM analysis", the Head of the MTM Institute explained. The benefits of this information are obvious: both worlds – humans and robots – are brought together on one form using a common language. "If we know what the human being is doing, we can assign sensible work content to the robots during this time”, said Kuhlang, summarizing the issue in a nutshell. And he added, “MTM-HRC works without the robot having to be programmed." The major problem in current HRC systems is simply that the robot has to be programmed or taught", Kuhlang observed. MTM-HRC, on the other hand, offers process building blocks for the human being and process times for the robot – and practically introduced in MTM’s TiCon software.

The issue of the profitability of HRC systems also occupied the minds of the participants in the ensuing discussions. Opinions were divided – depending on the knowledge available and degree of testing that had already taken place in the corporations. The group, however, agreed that there are cost-effective concepts, but fully collaborative HRC systems are still a difficult subject area.

“First MTM – then digitalize”
The major focus at Siemens in Amberg – which is also an MTM member corporation – will be on electrification, automation and digitalization in the future”, said Dominik Sachsenhauser during the introduction to the electronics factory. The development of a corporation from Industry 1.0 to 4.0 can be well followed at this site. An important element on the way to Industry 4.0 in Amberg has been the “lean digital factory” strategy with the secondary project entitled “Digital Time Management 2020.” One error that many people make, in Sachsenhauser’s view, is to fail to ensure that processes are slim before digitalizing them. Digitalizing poor processes doesn’t make sense. "So first make things lean and introduce MTM – and then digitalize”, the productivity manager emphasized. He believes that continuity in determining and verifying data is particularly important, because, “the quality of the data is one success factor in digitalization.”


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