As automotive manufacturers redesign vehicles at a progressively rapid pace to keep up with consumer requirements, it is essential to rethink the level of flexibility offered by traditional, chain-based automotive assembly lines.

For more than a century, automotive manufacturers have leveraged Henry Ford’s assembly line process to build vehicles more quickly. Within this process, vehicles travel along a conveyor toward workers who are assigned specific sets of tasks. When all tasks are completed, vehicles roll off the assembly line fully equipped and ready to hit the road. Some of world’s largest automotive manufacturers have turned to Michigan-based RedViking for help in modernizing their assembly line conveyance systems.

Flexing automotive assembly

Most U.S. automotive manufacturers traditionally rely on either skillets (skids-and-pallets, effectively moving platforms that advance along a track) or chain-based conveyor systems – to advance vehicles through the assembly process. As an alternative to these conveyor systems, RedViking’s battery-free, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) reduce construction costs and limitations of chain-based systems. AGVs are mobile robots that follow markers along the floor using vision technology, magnets, or lasers for navigation.

“They’re flexible in a way that traditional automotive assembly lines could never be,” explains Rod Emery, vice president of operations, RedViking.

To help customers be effective in the volatile automotive market, RedViking needed to provide a solution that can easily scale up production and fully integrate with end-user information systems. Company leaders saw information-enabled machines as an intelligent solution to open doors to meaningful, real-time data analytics for its customers.

Addressing these needs, RedViking optimized the design and installation process of its battery-free AGVs. The company customized its machines for each customer, but that caused unpredictable amounts of design and installation time. As the company’s customer base grew, RedViking needed to standardize on a single control and information platform. It hoped to save on design and installation time, as well as help its customers pursue the future of industrial data analytics with information-enabled machines.

Streamlining for efficiency

When RedViking worked with its customers to assess their control and information system needs, they found Rockwell Automation hardware and software were used most prominently. This led the company to standardize on Rockwell Automation solutions as a single supplier, making it easier to collect information from the system and coordinate that data with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 management systems. Rockwell and Allen-Bradley equipment provide motion control, software configuration, servo drives, motors, switches, and other gear.

A technician sets controls on a RedViking AGV. The automation equipment company standardized controls and components on versions of its Wingspan AGV line with Rockwell Automation/Allen-Bradley equipment to streamline design and easy Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)/Industry 4.0 integrations.

Intelligence drives results

Through use of a common programming environment across all of its machines, RedViking reduced engineering design time by 35%. The information-enabled capabilities of each machine make it easy for RedViking customers to integrate the AGVs with existing manufacturing execution systems (MES), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other important decision-making systems.

Each AGV can identify the vehicle it is carrying to get its own setup of automated work instructions, error proofing gates, and traceability requirements. The intelligent AGV knows when to lift, lower, and rotate, depending on its location or product load. And if a configuration change must occur, the customer can initiate it using the embedded software configuration environment.

“In addition to built-in intelligence, battery-free AGVs are very cost-effective to scale because you don’t need to buy surplus AGVs for recharging, and our platform is standardized to speed up the process,” Emery says. “One of our customers tripled their line’s capacity with only a 35% increase in the number of AGVs.”

RedViking
www.redviking.com
IMTS 2018 Booth #134114

Rockwell Automation
www.rockwellautomation.com
IMTS 2018 Booth #135660