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Lethal Autonomous Weapons

The CCW Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) took place from 13 to 16 May 2014 at the United Nations in Geneva.

At the 2013 CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties, a new mandate on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) was agreed on. The mandate states:

“…Chairperson will convene in 2014 a four-day informal Meeting of Experts, from 13 to 16 May 2014, to discuss the questions related to emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems, in the context of the objectives and purposes of the Convention. He will, under his own responsibility, submit a report to the 2014 Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention, objectively reflecting the discussions held.”

The Meeting of Experts was chaired by Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel of France. The formal letter of invitation to the Meeting of Experts on LAWS is available in both English and French.

The Agenda is available.

Hide details for Presentations and statements from the Meeting of ExpertsPresentations and statements from the Meeting of Experts

General exchange
Director General of UNOG
Czech Republic
Holy See
New Zealand
Republic of Korea
Russian Federation
Sierra Leone
South Africa
United Kingdom
United States
Campaign to Stop Killer Robots
Nobel Women’s Initiative
Article 36
Association for Aid and Relief, Japan
Human Rights Watch
International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC)
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
Technical Issues (Part 1)
Dr. Raja ChatilaCentre National de la Recherce Scientifique, France: The concept of autonomy
Dr. Paul Scharre, Centre for a New American Security, USA: Existing systems and technologies. Is there a trend towards increasing autonomy?
Professor Ronald Arkin, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
Professor Noel Sharkey, University of Shefield, UK
Technical Issues (Part 2)
Dr. Jean-Paul LaumondCentre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France: Robotique humanoide (Humanoid Robotics)
Mr. Hajime Wakuda, Director for Defense Industry, Aerospace and Defense Industry Division, Manufacturing Industries Bureau, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Japan: Robotics and applications
Dr. Yong Woon Park, Director, Principal Researcher, Agency for Defense Development (Defense Unmanned Technology Centre), Republic of Korea: The Trend of Autonomous Technology for Military Robot (with robotic views of Autonomy)
Dr. Quentin Ladetto, Director, Future Technologies, Research Management and Operation Research, Federal Department of Defence, Switzerland
Ethics and Sociology
Dr. Dominique Lambert, Université de Namur, Belgium: The ethics of robotics and the human-machine interrelation
Dr. Peter Asaro, Stanford Law School, USA, & Vice-Chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control: Ethical questions raised by military applications of robotics
Legal Aspects (Part 1) International Humanitarian Law
Dr. Nils Melzer, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Switzerland: Principle of humanity and Martens Clause
Dr. Matthew Waxman, Columbia Law University, USA: Implementation of Article 36 and Jus in bello
Dr. Marco Sassoli, Geneva Academy, Switzerland: LAWS – advantages and problems compared with other weapon systems from the point of view of IHL
Legal Aspects (Part 2) Other areas of international law
Dr. Thilo Marauhn, University of Giessen, Germany: Responsibility and accountability
Dr. Christof Heyns, University of Pretoria, South Africa: Human Rights Law issues
Dr. Nils Melzer, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Switzerland: Jus ad bellum
Operational and Military Aspects
Dr. Mark Hagerott, United States Naval Academy, USA
Dr. Heigo Sato, Takushoku University, Japan: Military implications of LAWS and possible ways to develop a risk management scheme
Lt. Col. Olivier Madiot, French Armed Forces: Views of the Joint Staff
Col. (Ret.) Wolfgang Richter, Germany: Utility and limitations of the use of LAWS in military operations
Czech Republic
Summaries by the Friends of the Chair
Technical issues – Ambassador Michael Biontino (Germany)
Ethics and sociological issues – Ambassador Pedro Motta Pinto Coelho (Brazil)
Legal aspects (Part 1) – Ambassador Aya Thiam (Mali)
Legal aspects (Part 2) – Ambassador Yvette Stevens (Sierra Leone)
Operational and military aspects – Chair, Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel (France)
Closing Statements
Sierra Leone
United Kingdom
International Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

Guidance on registering for the Meeting of Experts is attached here.

Press release by the International Committee of the Red Cross on lethal autonomous weapons systems

Meeting of Experts – Debate on the pros and cons of lethal autonomous weapons systems, Tuesday 13 May, afternoon session, Conference Room XIX

The Meeting of Experts will include a debate between two leading robotics experts – Professor Ronald Arkin and Professor Noel Sharkey. In preparation for this debate, the following articles by Professor Arkin and Sharkey are available:

Arkin, Ronald – Lethal Autonomous Systems and the Plight of the Non-combatant

Sharkey, Noel – The evitability of autonomous robots warfare

Sharkey, Noel – Towards a principle for the human supervisory control of robot weapons

Hide details for Side eventsSide events
Side events hosted by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots were held in Conference Room XXII at 13:00:

Tuesday, May 13: The Need for New International Law- Moderated by Ms. Sarah Knuckey of New York University and featuring:

  • Ms. Bonnie Docherty, Human Rights Watch
  • Mr. Brian Wood, Amnesty International
  • Prof. David Akerson, International Committee on Robot Arms Control

Wednesday, May 14: Technical and Operational Concerns- Moderated by Prof. Denise Garcia of the International Committee on Robot Arms Control
(ICRAC) and featuring:

  • Prof. Noel Sharkey, ICRAC
  • Dr. Heather Roff, ICRAC
  • Dr. Juergen Altmann, ICRAC
  • Ms. Maya Brehm, Article 36

Thursday, May 15: Ethical and Moral Concerns- Moderated by Dr. Steve Wright of ICRAC and featuring:

  • Dr. Peter Asaro, ICRAC
  • Ms. Miriam Struyk, PAX
  • Dr. Charli Carpenter, Article 36

Friday, May 16: The Way Forward –Moderated by Beatrice Fihn of WILPF and featuring:

  • Ms. Jody Williams, Nobel Women’s Initiative and Nobel Peace Laureate
  • Ambassador Jayathana Dhanapala, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
  • Mr. Steve Goose, Human Rights Watch

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

Potentially LAWS could identify and attack a target without human intervention. This issue was first brought to the international community’s attention by Human Rights Watch in its report titled “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots as part of its advocacy on LAWS produced this short film explaining the background to LAWS and work being undertaken within the United Nations and civil society.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots attended the Meeting of Experts. Attached here is a list of their experts. During the Meeting of Experts the Campaign hosted four side events.

Background information on LAWS

LAWS is a very new issue. Below are articles on LAWS that may be useful to delegations:

American Society of International Law – Panel on Autonomous Weaponry and Armed Conflict

Asaro, Peter – On banning autonomous weapon systems: human rights, automation, and the dehumanization of lethal decision-making

Anderson, Kenneth and Waxman, Matthew – Law and Ethics for Autonomous Weapons Systems: Why a Ban Won’t Work and How the Laws of War Can

Heyns, Christof – Report on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (focusing on lethal autonomous weapons systems)

Marchant, Gary; Allenby, Braden; Arkin, Ronald; Barrett, Edward; Borenstein, Jason; Gaudet, Lyn; Kitterie, Orde; Lin, Patrick; Lucas, George; O’Meara, Richard; and Silberman, Jared – International Governance of Autonomous Military Robots (from The Colombia, Science and Technology Law Review)

Marsh, Nicholas (2014) Defining the Scope of AutonomyPRIO Policy Brief, 2. Oslo: PRIO.

Lin, Ptrick; Bekey, George; and Abney, Keith – Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design

Sharkey, Noel – Weapons of Indiscriminate Lethality

Schmitt, Michael – Autonomous Weapon Systems and International Humanitarian Law: A Reply to the Critics 

UNIDIR – Framing Discussions on the Weaponization of Increasingly Autonomous Technologies

International Institute of Humanitarian Law – International Humanitarian Law and New Weapon Technologies


















16 May 2014

The four-day meeting of experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems held under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) concluded today. 

This was the very first step by States, United Nations organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations to examine the implications of autonomous weapons.  The meeting attracted record attendance.  Discussions were held on the ethical, legal, military and technical aspects of these weapons systems.

“Autonomous weapons are a complex issue.  We had very fruitful discussions on many aspects of lethal autonomous weapons systems.  The discussions held during the meeting took place in very constructive atmosphere and showed that there is a real interest in continuing to explore the issue at the CCW,” said Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon Michel of France, who chaired the meeting.  “The challenging nature of autonomous weapons was reflected in highly interactive and lively debates.”

CCW States parties will take a decision on future work on autonomous weapons at their formal meeting in November.

For use of the information media; not an official record


Mathematics Of Murder, Autonomous Cars and Robotic Soldiers: Should A Robot Sacrifice Your Life To Save Two?

PRIO Researchers Contribute to Debate on Lethal Autonomous Weapons

… discuss the challenges of a future prohibition of lethal autonomous weapons systems, in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and NRK Ytring.

The Pilot

Vatican official voices opposition to automated weapons systems

No matter how sophisticated autonomous weapons systems are, they can never … May 13-16 to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems such as drones. … “Autonomous weapon systems technology makes war too easy and …

Robotics Expert to Debate Pros and Cons of Autonomous Weapons at the UN

During a UN meeting last year, a new mandate on lethal autonomous weaponssystems was agreed. The mandate instructed the organisation of this …
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Should robots kill without human supervision?

Israel’s Harpy is a “fire-and-forget” autonomous weapon system designed to detect, … For instance, in the heat of battle, would an autonomous weapon be … opposed to the removal of lethal autonomous systems from the battlefield, …
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Calls for ban on “killer” robots in theatres of war

Lethal autonomous weapon systems, known by their critics as killer robots, are not yet in existence. However, a UN conference in Geneva, Switzerland …
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Why the United Nations Is Talking About Killer Robots

Killer robots, or “lethal autonomous weapons systems” are machines that would be able to select their targets without direct human mediation.

Call for Proposals to Organize 2019 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA)

The RAS Conference Activities Board (CAB) is seeking proposing for the 2019 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) organization in North or South America. CAB will give priority to proposals received prior to 15 August 2014, with the intention of discussing the different submissions at its September meeting in Chicago during IROS 2014. All proposers will be invited to discuss their proposal during this meeting. The final decision will be made after presentations at the next CAB meeting at ICRA 2015 in May.

Each proposal should be submitted to and should contain the following material:

  • Location and plan
  • Organizers and write-ups about their backgrounds and interactions with RAS previously. At the minimum, include names and background of general Chairs, Program Chairs, Local Arrangement Chairs, Workshops and Tutorials Chairs, and Finance Chairs.
  • Description of available infrastructure (e.g., broadband Internet)
  • Nearby and/or onsite hotel capacities
  • Exhibits
  • Program discussion
  • Budget plan
  • Milestones
  • Signing a “contract” with RAS

For more information, please refer to

CAB members will be happy to answer questions by e-mail and phone. If you are planning to attend ICRA 2014 in Hong Kong, please feel free to contact members of CAB in person.

India Police investigate pizza deliveries by drone




Police in the Indian city of Mumbai are reportedly looking into why a restaurant started using a drone to deliver pizzas without letting them know.

Francesco’s Pizzeria says it successfully used a remote-controlled four-rotored drone to send an order to a skyscraper about 1.5km (1 mile) away, the Economic Times reports. In a city that’s famous for its snarling traffic jams, the restaurant says drone deliveries could be a green solution that saves on time too. A video the pizzeria put together seems to show footage from one of the test flights.

But the city police now say they’re checking whether the restaurant asked permission from the civil aviation authorities. “As per norms, permission must be taken for flying any such object,” an air traffic control official says. A local police chief told the told the PTI news agency: “We are very sensitive towards anything that flies in the sky with the help of remote control.”

Indian security forces are nervous about the possibility of terror attacks using paragliders or drones, according to sources quoted by IBN Live. But Francesco’s insists the experiment was safe. A source told the Economic Times the drone never went higher than 130m (400ft) to avoid interfering with other traffic, and the craft was never out of the reach of the controller. Last year, Amazon said it was testing unmanned drones for deliveries, but said it could take up to five years for the service to actually start.

Source: WorldNewsChannel and Francesco’s Pizzeria

UAS AND POLITICS.Senate confirmed David Barron to be United States Circuit Judge for the First Circuit

U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 113th Congress – 2nd Session

as compiled through Senate LIS by the Senate Bill Clerk under the direction of the Secretary of the Senate

Vote Summary

Question: On the Nomination (Confirmation David Jeremiah Barron, of Massachusetts, to be U.S. Circuit udge for the First Circuit )
Vote Number: 162 Vote Date: May 22, 2014, 01:49 PM
Required For Majority: 1/2 Vote Result: Nomination Confirmed
Nomination Number: PN1185
Nomination Description: David Jeremiah Barron, of Massachusetts, to be United States Circuit Judge for the First Circuit
Vote Counts: YEAs 53
NAYs 45
Not Voting 2
Vote Summary By Senator Name By Vote Position By Home State


Alphabetical by Senator Name

Alexander (R-TN), Nay
Ayotte (R-NH), Nay
Baldwin (D-WI), Yea
Barrasso (R-WY), Nay
Begich (D-AK), Yea
Bennet (D-CO), Yea
Blumenthal (D-CT), Yea
Blunt (R-MO), Nay
Booker (D-NJ), Yea
Boozman (R-AR), Not Voting
Boxer (D-CA), Yea
Brown (D-OH), Yea
Burr (R-NC), Nay
Cantwell (D-WA), Yea
Cardin (D-MD), Yea
Carper (D-DE), Yea
Casey (D-PA), Yea
Chambliss (R-GA), Nay
Coats (R-IN), Not Voting
Coburn (R-OK), Nay
Cochran (R-MS), Nay
Collins (R-ME), Nay
Coons (D-DE), Yea
Corker (R-TN), Nay
Cornyn (R-TX), Nay
Crapo (R-ID), Nay
Cruz (R-TX), Nay
Donnelly (D-IN), Yea
Durbin (D-IL), Yea
Enzi (R-WY), Nay
Feinstein (D-CA), Yea
Fischer (R-NE), Nay
Flake (R-AZ), Nay
Franken (D-MN), Yea
Gillibrand (D-NY), Yea
Graham (R-SC), Nay
Grassley (R-IA), Nay
Hagan (D-NC), Yea
Harkin (D-IA), Yea
Hatch (R-UT), Nay
Heinrich (D-NM), Yea
Heitkamp (D-ND), Yea
Heller (R-NV), Nay
Hirono (D-HI), Yea
Hoeven (R-ND), Nay
Inhofe (R-OK), Nay
Isakson (R-GA), Nay
Johanns (R-NE), Nay
Johnson (D-SD), Yea
Johnson (R-WI), Nay
Kaine (D-VA), Yea
King (I-ME), Yea
Kirk (R-IL), Nay
Klobuchar (D-MN), Yea
Landrieu (D-LA), Nay
Leahy (D-VT), Yea
Lee (R-UT), Nay
Levin (D-MI), Yea
Manchin (D-WV), Nay
Markey (D-MA), Yea
McCain (R-AZ), Nay
McCaskill (D-MO), Yea
McConnell (R-KY), Nay
Menendez (D-NJ), Yea
Merkley (D-OR), Yea
Mikulski (D-MD), Yea
Moran (R-KS), Nay
Murkowski (R-AK), Nay
Murphy (D-CT), Yea
Murray (D-WA), Yea
Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Paul (R-KY), Nay
Portman (R-OH), Nay
Pryor (D-AR), Yea
Reed (D-RI), Yea
Reid (D-NV), Yea
Risch (R-ID), Nay
Roberts (R-KS), Nay
Rockefeller (D-WV), Yea
Rubio (R-FL), Nay
Sanders (I-VT), Yea
Schatz (D-HI), Yea
Schumer (D-NY), Yea
Scott (R-SC), Nay
Sessions (R-AL), Nay
Shaheen (D-NH), Yea
Shelby (R-AL), Nay
Stabenow (D-MI), Yea
Tester (D-MT), Yea
Thune (R-SD), Nay
Toomey (R-PA), Nay
Udall (D-CO), Yea
Udall (D-NM), Yea
Vitter (R-LA), Nay
Walsh (D-MT), Yea
Warner (D-VA), Yea
Warren (D-MA), Yea
Whitehouse (D-RI), Yea
Wicker (R-MS), Nay
Wyden (D-OR), Yea


Source: U.S. Senate

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey bristles when he hears someone use the word drone

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, May 22, 2014 – Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey bristles when he hears someone use the word drone.

“You will never hear me use the word ‘drone,’ and you’ll never hear me use the term ‘unmanned aerial systems,’” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today. “Because they are not. They are remotely piloted aircraft.”

Dempsey spoke to Reuters and American Forces Press Service on his way back to Washington from Brussels and the 171st Chiefs of Defense Meeting at NATO headquarters.

The American people seem to have the image of robots “flying around semi-autonomously making their own decisions and conducting kinetic strikes without oversight by responsible human beings,” he said. “It’s not like that at all.”

There are more than 80 people for each remotely piloted vehicle, he said. They operate and maintain the aircraft, and analyze the information gathered. “It’s so important for us to remember that there is a man or woman in the loop,” he said.

And, whether a service member uses a bayonet or a remotely piloted aircraft with a Hellfire missile, “the ethical application of force applies,” Dempsey emphasized.

The law of armed conflict, the principles of war, U.S. ethics and legal bases apply no matter what the weapon, the chairman reiterated. “So, when we introduce remotely piloted aircraft into a theater in a Title 10 role, we apply the same standards,” he said.

The standards are predicated on the near-certainty of the effect — is the weapon going to do what the operators need it to do? Military personnel always assess the risk of collateral damage on people or buildings. And, “we ensure that we are achieving an effect with the appropriate behavior for the United States of America,” Dempsey said.

Remotely piloted aircraft are “a valid, useful and responsible military instrument in the way we use them,” he said. “So long as we continue to think of them that way and so long as we continue to use them in a transparent … ethical way, then I have no concerns about their use.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneAFPS)

By Jim Garamone

American Forces Press Service

Contact Author

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey
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Photo Essay

DOD sends UAV, 80 Airmen to help Nigerian search

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — TheDefenseDepartment’sadditionofanunmannedaerialvehicleand 80 Air Forcetroops to U.S.effortssupporting Nigeria’ssearchforover 200 missingschoolgirls hasturnedthemissionintoanairoperation,Army Col.SteveWarren,the directorofPentagonPressOperations,saidMay 22.The UAV system and Air Force personnel were deployed not to Nigeria but to neighboring Chad under an agreement with the Chadian government, Warren said, because basing the air assets there, closer to the search area, allows the aircraft to spend more time overhead.

The Nigerian government has requested such assistance and, Warren said, “This is the third system that we’ve put into Chad in addition to (systems that have) been providing (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) up until yesterday.”


The coordinated air operation is using a mix of manned and unmanned assets as the situation dictates, he added.

“I don’t know right now of any plans to send additional ISR assets, and all 80 Air Force personnel are not (yet) on the ground,” Warren said, adding that there are no plans now for a U.S. military operation on the ground in Nigeria.

It’s been five weeks since members of the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped the girls from the Government Secondary boarding school in the town of Chibok.

Boko Haram is a phrase in a language spoken in inland West Africa, according to academic linguistic texts, that translates figuratively to “Western education is a sin.”

The Airmen are joining 16 military personnel from U.S. Africa Command who earlier this month joined an interdisciplinary team led by the State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria.

On May 21, as required by the War Powers Resolution, President Barack Obama notified Congress of the deployment of Air Force personnel to Chad in a letter to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate.

“These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” Obama said in the letter.

“The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required,” he added.

“The team in Chad is there in support of one of our ISR assets — an unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicle that is helping support the search for the students,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Myles B. Caggins III told American Forces Press Service.

“The majority of the Air Force personnel are dedicated to the launch, recovery, and maintenance of the aircraft,” Caggins added. “They have a small security detachment to round-out the team.”

They are not infantry troops and will not conduct ground operations, he said.

“The weapons they deployed with are strictly for self-defense and local security at the airfield,” Caggins added.

ISR is one of the key DOD contributions to the search, he noted, and U.S. operations are around-the-clock, including time for aircraft maintenance and recovery.

The missions will take place over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area, Caggins said.

“Flying these aircraft from Chad significantly increases search time over potential Boko Haram camps in Nigeria and surrounding countries,” the DOD spokesman said, adding, “We’re thankful for cooperation from the government of Chad and our international partners for this basing agreement.”

On May 21, during a hearing on Boko Haram before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda J. Dory said DOD officials are taking action to help the Nigerian government find the students and address the growing threat posed by Boko Haram.

Initial DOD efforts involve working with Nigerian security personnel to identify gaps and shortfalls and provide requested expertise and information, including ISR support, she told the panel.

“We’re also working closely with the U.K., France and other international partners in Abuja to coordinate multilateral actions,” Dory said.

“Our intent is to support Nigerian-led efforts to safely recover the girls,” she added, “and help catalyze greater efforts to secure the population of Nigeria from the menace of Boko Haram.”

Ifsustainedsecurity is to beachieved,Dorysaid,thegovernmentof Nigeriamustdevelopandimplementimmediateand long-term solutions toproblemscreatedbytheextremistgroup.The Boko Haram threat has existed in its current form since 2009 but over the past several years has extended its geographic reach and increased the sophistication and lethality of its attacks, she explained.

“Along with other U.S. departments and agencies, DOD has been engaging for some time with the government of Nigeria to help build its capacity to respond,” the deputy assistant secretary said.

Beginning in 2011, DOD used the State Department-led U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission as a main forum to enhance counterinsurgency efforts and develop a civilian-centered approach to security, Dory said.

DOD supports creating a counter-IED and civil military operations capacity in the Nigerian army, she added, and it has supported creating a national-level intelligence-fusion capability to promote better information-sharing among Nigerian national-security entities.

In late April, DOD began working with Nigeria’s newly created counterterrorism-focused ranger battalion.

In addition, DOD and the State Department are working closely to enhance border security along Nigeria’s borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon, to counter the Boko Haram threat, Dory told the panel.

The idea, she said, is to build border security capacity and promote better cooperation and communication among each country’s security force to reduce the extremist group’s operational space and safe havens.

In the meantime, the search for the students in Nigeria is ongoing, Caggins added, and the Nigerians are in the lead.

DOD, he said, continues to lend its unique assets and capabilities to help in the search.

“We’ll continue to evaluate the resources we might bring to bear in support of the effort in close consultation with the Nigerian government,” Caggins said.

Source: USAF 5/22/14

ABB partners with Changan Ford to boost Chinese carmaker’s flexibility

2014-05-20 – Long a car-industry mantra, “flexible production” becomes a reality at Chinese automobile plant – with help from ABB Robotics

It takes just 18 seconds for the Ford Motor Co. and its partner, Changan, to switch between vehicle models on a production line where ABB robots ensure one of China’s biggest carmakers can react quickly to shifting consumer sentiment, rising demand and a changing economy.
To put those 18 seconds in perspective, the joint venture’s plant in Chongqing, in southwestern China, can go from making Ford Mondeos (in the U.S., think Fusions) to any one of as many as five different models faster than sprinter Usain Boltrunsthe 200 meters.ABB’s robots also ease introduction of completely new models to the line, too, an advance from traditional production lines that required more extensive work before a new model could be added – hardly ideal if consumers’ tastes change quickly.

“Flexible production,” a car-industry mantra since the 1990s, is becoming a necessity in China and the rest of the world as auto manufacturers accommodate customer expectations that can turn faster than prices at the gas pump while ensuring factories are prepared for sweeping demand swings like the one that accompanied the Great Recession.
“The economic downturn has been tough on automakers and highlighted the need to be more adaptive to the demands of the market,” said Yuan HenXin, Manufacturing Engineering Manager for Changan Ford. “This is especially true when it comes to being able to respond quicker to changes in customer preference, as well as remain competitive in a fierce industry.”

How fast?
Changan Ford, with its facilities 900 miles upstream from Shanghai on the Yangtze River in one of China’s auto manufacturing hubs, is actually an expansion of a long partnership between Ford and ABB Robotics. It’s already boosted flexibility of the carmaker’s operations.

In 2012, for instance, ABB Robotics installed a Tube Press and Weld System to make axles and gears for the F-150 Pickup truck, among other vehicles, at the Ford Sterling Axle Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich. Now, a complete changeover between axle types can be completed in less than 43 seconds _ not as fast as Bolt’s 200, maybe, but faster than Michael Johnson’s 400-meter world record.

Working now with Changan Ford in China, ABB’s FlexLean Automotive Bodyshop Solution is deployed at the stage of production known as “Body in White”. That’s industry shorthand for when the car’s body is just beginning to take shape, including assembling raw stamped metal body panels into a welded frame.

First, the car’s underbody arrives for ABB robots to begin the gluing process, making it possible for up to six different models to be produced on the same production line. This flexible robotic production line has the unique ability to adapt, on the fly, for cars of different widths and lengths without a moment of stopped production, because of ABB’s robotic technology.

Flexible ABB robots do the heavy lifting

Next, the roof goes on, also with ABB robots doing the heavy lifting before turning to high-speed brazing, accurate laser welding and polishing that gives Changan Ford’s cars’ exterior the kind of finish consumers are seeking.

In minutes, each new frame has acquired the stiffness necessary for safety.

And in just seconds, the line is ready for the next car – even if it’s a different model.

“This philosophy uses robotics technology to replace traditional custom-made machinery with standardized solutions,” said Alan Stapelberg, Global Product Manager of ABB Robotics Body-In-White Portfolio. “These products are modular in design and flexible, allowing multiple car models to be produced on the same line and new models to be added easily.”

The world’s No. 1 car market – and rising

Changan Ford says replacing custom machinery – typically designed specifically to produce just one vehicle model – with ABB’s standardized, flexible solution allows them to reuse the hardware investment across new models, saving them money and making a lot of financial sense.

Additionally, life is made easier for maintenance workers who now have comprehensive maintenance documentation and spare parts close at hand.

And with the production line’s machinery all running on the identical language as ABB’s robots, operators need less training and can get to work more quickly as new models are added, Changan Ford said.

Increasingly affluent consumers have already made China the world’s No. 1 market for cars, at 20 million-plus units sold in 2013 and rising.

With Chinese wages set to rise more than 10 percent this year, its residents will have even more buying power to demand safer, higher-quality, Internet-connected cars.

“With this increasing prosperity, the market will continue to grow, meaning high-volume production which can only be accomplished with full automation,” Changan Ford’s Yuan said, adding global cooperation is key to modern vehicle manufacturing. “ABB Robotics is a good partner for us in this regard.”