ZEELAND, Mich. – YuMi the two-armed robot can be found on YouTube delighting viewers by folding paper airplanes, playing "Simon Says" with a technician, mixing drinks, and even cooking pancakes.
But now, YuMi is migrating from YouTube videos to the auto industry's factory floor.
At Gentex Corp., engineers are testing a YuMi to help make mirrors. The robot will load plastic parts into a plasma oven to remove impurities from the molding process, according to company spokesman Craig Piersma.
Gentex, which employs 4,000 in its Zeeland, Mich., plant and is the industry's leading producer of electro-chromic mirrors, is counting heavily on automation to compete with rivals in Mexico, China and elsewhere.
Robots have been a common fixture in auto plants for decades, performing grungy and dangerous jobs. But YuMi, designed by ABB Robotics, represents a new wave of robotics hitting the industry. The new machines are collaborative robots — designed to work in close proximity to humans without a protective metal cage or plexiglass shield.
That new flexibility in how and where they can work in a manufacturing setting — coupled with lower costs and easier programming — is setting the stage for parts suppliers to embrace the technology. And such an industry shift could have long-term implications for the U.S. auto manufacturing sector's ability to generate job growth as it has in the past.