The robots use onboard sensors and software to understand their environment and adapt to changes in real-time, safely detecting and avoiding obstacles, people, and equipment. (Image: OTTO Motors)

With 40 years of experience to its name, Sunview Patio Doors Ltd. (acquired by Novatech Group in 2021), has solved one of the industry’s top challenges: meeting customers’ increased demands for faster and better services, while providing an option for product customization. Its ability to adopt digital technology allowed the company to satisfy its customers and compete globally in the marketplace.

Efficiency is key to Sunview’s success, which is evident in its ability to manufacture 70,000-80,000 units annually. However, over time, the industry had undergone significant changes. Windows and patio doors were no longer a standard size, thickness, and material. There were now endless options for customers who began to expect customized options, but the manufacturing facility at the company wasn’t set up to operate that way.

Sunview knew they required more flexibility and efficiency in their production to meet increasing market demands for faster delivery times and more customized products. They needed a lean manufacturing model to ensure the right materials were delivered to the right spot at the right time.

While addressing the need for flexibility and efficiency was the main priority, Sunview also valued safety and wanted to find a more optimal solution than adding more pump trucks and tow-motors (forklifts) on the factory floor.

“It’s very easy to become complacent when you deal with something repetitive every day. Tow-motors can be extremely dangerous for this reason — they’re stronger than a car, driving around within inches of people which obviously impacts safety,” said Kurt Oberparleiter, Vice President of Operations at Sunview Patio Doors.

When it came to choosing the best solution to address their problems of safety and meeting customers’ growing demands, the leadership team at Sunview considered many options. They initially looked at automated guided vehicles (AGVs) but found limitations that ultimately proved to be insurmountable.

AGVs often rely on guidance devices such as magnetic tape that allow the vehicle to travel on fixed paths in a controlled space. If something or someone blocks the AGVs path, the vehicle and operation remain stops until the obstacle is manually removed. In some cases, AGVs can’t operate around humans, which was simply not an option for Sunview.

“In our case, that magnetic strip would probably be cut on day one, or someone would put something in front of the signposts stopping the entire operation,” said Oberparleiter.

In the facility, OTTO 1500 takes finished product from the end-of-production line to the warehouse, then reloads and brings the empty pallets back. (Image: OTTO Motors)

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) provided Sunview the flexibility, reliability, and safety benefits it required. AMRs utilize laser-based perception and artificial intelligence to dynamically move through facilities, infrastructure-free. The robots use onboard sensors and software to understand their environment and adapt to changes in real-time, safely detecting and avoiding obstacles, people, and equipment. Sunview ultimately selected OTTO Motors as their AMR provider and deployed OTTO 1500, an AMR which has a payload capacity of 1,900 kg (4,200 lb).

In the facility, OTTO 1500 takes finished product from the end-of-production line to the warehouse, then reloads and brings the empty pallets back.

This process begins in the warehouse, where OTTO, with an integrated lift attachment, arrives at the pick-up and delivery station (P&D Station) to pick up an empty pallet. The AMR drives to the end-of-production line with the empty pallet and picks up the finished goods from the P&D Station. Lastly, OTTO drops off the finished goods at the warehouse’s automated storage retrieval system, where the product will be shipped out, and then begins the process again.

Implementing an AMR was a seamless process that quickly produced positive results. Sunview was able to standardize their processes, improving the entire flow of the plant while continuing to meet customer demand. Additionally, the response from Sunview’s clients and prospects who toured the factory and saw OTTO 1500 in action had been incredible.

“The factory sells for us. It awes people who come to see it. It helps our sales organization close deals, because people see OTTO and immediately understand that Sunview is a forward-thinking, innovative company, and they want to do business with us,” said Oberparleiter.

After just over one year, more than 7,000 missions were completed, with 930,000 feet travelled, moving 2,700,000 pounds of product. All of this was achieved alongside zero safety incidents and a 16-month ROI.

This article was contributed by OTTO Motors (Kitchener, ON). For more information, visit here .