To succeed in today's competitive market, factories across the supply chain are automating anything that can be profitably—and flexibly—automated. Yet the endeavor can be daunting and costly, requiring major investments in new infrastructure, software, and other technologies. Consider automating internal transportation tasks as an example. Until recently, the only options were traditional conveyor belts (inflexible but often unreliable) or automated guided vehicles (AGVs) guided along fixed routes by wires, magnetic, strips or sensors. These require extensive and expensive facility updates to install, and disrupt production for lengthy periods for installation.
Kamstrup, which makes intelligent power meters for water, electricity and heating, decided neither option was right in its quest to create a “flexible automated factory.” Instead, in 2016, Kamstrup implemented three autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to transport semi-finished and finished items within its headquarters in Stilling, Denmark. Kamstrup chose these AMRs—with conveyor top modules—to connect two identical production lines and robotics cells in its production hall instead of using traditional conveyor belts. The AMRs let Kamstrup “dynamically disconnect and connect without expensive production shutdowns,” said Flemming Møller Hansen, Kamstrup's production manager.
Kamstrup's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system manages the control of the production flow and the AMRs, which run non-stop, 24 hours a day, five days a week. When a sales consultant from Kamstrup enters a new order, for example, the system automatically notifies production and the mobile robots of what to do to meet Kamstrup’s 72-hour delivery time, putting the mobile robots in a queue of routes, much like taxis.
This automation releases employees for other non-automated, and often more strategic, tasks, including developing and producing new prototypes. In addition, automation contributes to Kamstrup’s ability to reduce costs for temporary staff and overtime. The investment in the AMRs specifically is already paying huge dividends. In fact, in one year, Kamstrup doubled its production without increasing labor costs, and without the costly production downtime the company would have experienced if it had chosen conveyor belts instead.
“The prerequisite to secure our growth position in the global market is that we refine the products, reduce our costs and ensure a short delivery time,” said Flemming Møller Hansen, Kamstrup's production manager. “Our production is characterized by high-mix, high-volume; therefore, we invest in flexible automation…We have actually managed to increase our production volume, while we have integrated these new automation solutions.”
With the AMRs, Kamstrup's goal of being a flexible automated factory is nearly complete, with a 95-percent automation rate for the production of its standard products. It's planning to replicate this same level of flexible automation— with a fleet of seven to 10 AMRs — at its new production hall, which also will be placed in Stilling, Denmark.
This is but one example of how companies are automating their facilities. What are you doing? Let us know in the comments section below.