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.

As manufacturers push for increased productivity, low-value tasks such as material transport have become clear targets for improvement. In efforts to reduce material transport in large facilities, companies have explored the use of intermediate warehouse areas throughout the production floor. However, this takes up valuable space, requires additional material processing and handling, and creates opportunities for errors and lost or misplaced materials.

Today, companies are looking to autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that can be quickly and efficiently deployed throughout any size facility to transport a wide range of materials, from raw materials to assemblies and finished goods, as well as trash and consumables. Instead of walking miles per day pushing carts, workers can be redeployed to high-value manufacturing roles that have a greater impact on productivity.

MiR Insights software helps track KPIs, identify issues, and correlate data across robot fleets, while heatmaps provide intuitive visual details for monitoring and optimization. (Image: MiR)

Using 360-degree sensors and 3D cameras, AMRs move safely and efficiently through even the busiest manufacturing environments, autonomously avoiding collisions and maneuvering around people or other obstacles. AMRs excel even in dynamic and highly populated production environments that are inappropriate for manned fork trucks, and that make even manual carts and tuggers difficult for workers to navigate. 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.

AMR software can be integrated with existing enterprise software, including manufacturing execution systems (MES), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and warehouse management systems (WMS). That allows materials to be automatically delivered from warehouse to assembly lines to finished goods, meeting just-in-time and agile process goals and eliminating the need for intermediate storage. Innovative new software provides insight into robot behaviors and mission flows, with intuitive dashboards that let companies track, analyze, and optimize robot fleets over time.

Adaptable AMRs Enable a Wide Range of Applications

Automotive supplier Valeo transports small parts using a MiR250 robot that tows specialty designed carts with racks using an attached hook. (Image: MiR)

As AMRs become pervasive worldwide, innovative new top modules make these automation workhorses applicable for an even wider range of applications. Flexible and adaptable AMRs provide a powerful platform with an open interface that allows the robots to be customized to fit many different workflows. These nine typical applications with different top modules illustrate how companies can optimize workflows from warehouse to assembly line.

Forvia uses a fleet of mobile Krakuri robot system to pick up monoliths in its warehouse. The robots then transport the monoliths over a long distance and deliver them to production, where they pick up empty boxes. They run 24x7, ensuring consistent material delivery for maximum operational uptime. (Image: MiR)

Karakuri System: For fully automated solutions, companies integrate a Karakuri system on top of an AMR. This gravity-based system with mechanical linkages allows the rack to offload and onload 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 the ERP system, this solution can eliminate human interference as the robot is automatically summoned, connects to the fixed Karakuri system, and loads and offloads.

Conveyors: When AMRs are deployed with a conveyor top module, they can work as the adaptable link to fixed conveyors. This is often part of a fully automated solution where the AMR moves sub-assemblies from warehouse to production or between assembly lines. This adds flexibility and agility, as the AMRs’ routes and positions can be quickly adapted as needed. Heavy-duty conveyor top modules broaden the use of AMRs even for large products delivered to finished goods.

Towing: An AMR equipped with a hook top module can automatically pick up, transport, and drop off carts, identifying them by April Tags or QR codes. This versatile system can collect existing carts of different sizes and heights.

Pallet Lifts: Heavy-duty AMRs can take over pallet movement with customized pallet lifts and racks. This helps reduce safety hazards of forklifts in populated areas.

Static Racks and Shelves: Shelf units are a simple and cost-effective way to automate the transportation from warehouse to assembly line. Shelves or racks can be purchased or built on-site, matching existing formats, and are simply mounted on the robot with four bolts. 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 the shelves with material and sends it on its way.

Mobility supplier DENSO uses MIR250 robot shelf lifts in its 800,000-square foot powertrain component production facility in Athens, TN, to move materials from production and the warehouse, eliminating the need for employees to walk up to 12 miles per day pushing carts. (Image: MiR)

Mobile Cobots: Exciting new applications use a collaborative robot arm mounted on an AMR to automate tasks such as machine tending. The AMR allows a single robot arm to manage multiple machines for maximum utilization.

Carts: Shelf carrier top modules allow AMRs to autonomously pick up, transport, and deliver existing internal carts and bins. The robot maneuvers under the cart and lifts it to transport entire carts with raw materials from the warehouse to production, pick up empty carts and take them back to the warehouse, or take a new cart with other sub-assemblies to another assembly line.

Vertical Storage: AMRs with vertical-lift top modules allow a “goods to person” approach that delivers materials at the right time, directly to the operator. This improves picking operations and can dramatically reduce the work and time required for order fulfillment.

SGIMRI has mounted UR10 cobots on MiR mobile robots to collaborate with a CNC machine. The fleet of MiR robots meets the demanding requirements for stability and reliability for accurate positioning of the robots. The mobile manipulators have made the layout of the entire production line more flexible and production processes more efficient. (Image: MiR)

Powerful, Flexible AMRs Drive Productivity Gains

Material transport workflows for production and assembly lines are time-consuming, non-value-adding tasks for most manufacturers. AMRs provide 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. Innovative new top modules are enabling a wide range of new applications and driving productivity gains. Whether manufacturers need to move heavy items or smaller sub-assemblies, and whether they need a fully automated and integrated solution or a more basic, semi-automated solution, flexible and adaptable AMRs can solve the task.

This article was written by Brian Dillman, U.S. Sales Director, Mobile Industrial Robots (San Diego, CA). For more information, visit here .