March 1, 2021

By Edward Mullen, Mobile Industrial Robots

MiR Honeywell400x275Material transport workflows for production and assembly lines is a time-consuming, non-value adding task for most manufacturers. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are a simple, efficient and cost-effective way to automate material handling and in-house transportation tasks in nearly any situation where employees would previously have been required to push carts around the facility.

Sub-assemblies, assemblies, and other consumables are often transported manually over long distances from the warehouse to the assembly line. This task can be done efficiently by AMRs, redeploying workers for higher-value tasks. At the same time, AMRs save the workers from pushing heavy carts, and AMRs enable companies to keep up with recent regulations around social distancing  – workers can stay in their own department or workstation, while AMRs handle the internal transportation.

To optimize efficiency and save time on internal transportation, many companies have intermediate storage in the production. This takes up valuable space and decreases the flexibility of the production layout. AMR software can be integrated with manufacturing execution systems (MES), enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, or warehouse management software (WMS) to automatically deliver materials lineside to meet just-in-time and agile processes, eliminating the need for storage inside the production. 

At the same time, production sites are typically dynamic and highly populated environments, making them inappropriate for manned fork trucks. Even manual carts and tuggers can be difficult for workers to navigate in these areas. AMRs can move safely and efficiently through even the busiest manufacturing environments, automatically stopping to avoid collisions and maneuvering around people or other obstacles. With no infrastructure required, AMRs can be easily rerouted for new production layouts or assembly lines, and the robots’ missions can adapt to match delivery requirements for faster or slower processes.

Workflows are different in all types of industries, but AMRs, which are typically flexible and adaptable, can be customized to fit almost any business needs. With their open interface, they can be mounted with customized top modules whatever the customer application demands. Here are five typical applications that can help companies optimize warehouse-to-assembly line transportation.

MIR Argon800px

A MiR200 with a static shelf transports surgical instruments between a  warehouse and production area at Argon Medical in Chicago.

#1: Static shelf units

Static shelf units are a popular and simple way to automate transportation from warehouse to assembly line. The shelf structure simply needs to be mounted on the robot with four bolts, and then the application is good to go. Static shelves are mostly used in semi-automated solutions, where an employee summons the mobile robot via the robot’s interface on a tablet, fills up the robot with the assemblies and sends it on its way by clicking a button. The materials are then manually offloaded once the AMR reaches its destination.

 

MIR Visteon 350px#2: Cart systems

In this application, a robot is mounted with a top module to pick up, transport and deliver carts. The robot transports the cart from the warehouse to the production area, where it can drop off the entire cart with sub-assemblies, and then continue on its path, picking up an empty cart and driving it back to the warehouse. Or it can take a new cart with other sub-assemblies to another assembly line.

Visteon in Námestovo, Slovakia, uses MiR robots equipped with a cart system from ROEQ to transport PCBs from the warehouse to the SMT lines and then bring an empty cart back.

 

#3: Karakuri systems

For fully automated solutions, companies sometimes integrate a Karakuri system on top of an AMR. This is a gravity-based system with mechanical linkages. Gravity allows the rack to offload and load onto the robot. A Karakuri system can fully automate the process of loading and unloading onto an assembly line for maximum efficiency. If the mobile robot is integrated into an ERP system, for example, this can eliminate human interference – the robot is automatically summoned, connects to the fixed Karakuri system, and then loads and offloads.

 

MIR200 Hitachi800px

 At Johnson Controls Hitachi, a MiR200 is deployed with a Karakuri system that connects to a fixed system. The robot transports assemblies from the warehouse and brings back empty packaging – completely automatically.

 

#4: Conveyor belts

When AMRs are deployed with a conveyor top module, they can work as the adaptable link between fixed conveyors. This is often done as part of a fully automated solution where the AMR moves sub-assemblies from the warehouse to the production area, or between assembly lines. This approach adds flexibility to the logistics processes compared to having a fixed conveyor. Instead of a time-consuming process to move conveyors around, it is easy to change the AMRs’ routes and positions, adding agility to a site.

Mir Honeywell800px

Four MiR1000 robots are equipped with conveyors at Honeywell Safety and Productivity Solutions. The robots connect to conveyors in the warehouse to pick up assemblies and transport them to 15 different stations in the production area.

#5: Pallet lifts

When moving large items from a warehouse to production, heavy-duty AMRs can take over the pallet movement. With customized pallet lifts and racks, AMRs can pick up, transport, and deliver pallets autonomously from the warehouse, offering efficient transportation. Most manufacturers want forklifts away from the factory floor as they constitute a safety hazard. With autonomous navigation, AMRs are a safe alternative that avoids people on their paths and other obstacles.  

MIR500 Stera800px

Stera Technologies uses a MiR500 to transport heavy assemblies from the warehouse to robotics cells in the production, eliminating forklift traffic on the factory floor.

 

Keeping things flexible

Moving materials to different assembly lines in a manufacturing facility is an ideal application for AMRs. Whether they need to move heavy items or smaller sub-assemblies, or if they need a fully automated or more basic, semi-automated system, flexible and adaptable AMRs can solve this task.

Edward Mullen is the vice president of sales – Americas at Mobile Industrial Robots ApS.