European automakers take varying approaches to using manufacturing robots. BMW has enough to handle nearly all its body shop operations; Dacia has one robot.
Carmakers know robot prices are falling rapidly. But that does not necessarily mean that more robots reduce production cost or improve productivity, says BMW.
"While prices of standard industrial robots may have come down by 30 to 40 percent, you still must develop specific flexible working processes," says spokesman Michael Blabst.
In BMW's European plants, paint shop automation is up to 85 percent, and 98 percent in body shops. But for assembly, automation is only 5 percent. BMW uses mostly German-built Kuka robots.
"Since we build most cars on special order, productivity does not improve when you add extra robots in assembly," Blabst says.
At NedCar in Born, Netherlands, where the Mitsubishi Colt and Smart Forfour share a line, assembly line automation is about 10 percent, twice as high as at BMW.
"You can improve quality with automation because of repeatability, and better ergonomics of operations," says Alex Jahn, manager of product systems at NedCar.
In Romania, where the average line worker makes only E200 a month, Dacia uses only one robot to apply sealant to windshields.
"Given the low cost of labor here, we will have robots only if there is a quality or an ergonomic issue," says Simon Valin, industrial director.
When Toyota Europe integrates robots in its plants, it considers cost, improving the process and reducing the burden on employees.