As automotive manufacturers prioritize flexibility over volume throughout the next five to 10 years, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) will become increasingly popular as logistics solutions that can adapt smoothly to changing production layouts and processes. Mobile systems move out of the way of obstacles independently, are easy to set up, and don’t require fixed routes, making them safer, smarter, and more flexible.
“Automotive manufacturers tend to want to try to get away from autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) that are fixed and follow a strip on the ground, to a more flexible solution like AMRs that can really navigate from any point in the facility to another point without having to really change the infrastructure,” explains Matt Charles, sales director – Midwest USA for Mobile Industrial Robotics (MiR). “As the industry shapes to more customization for customers with different trim packages and options, it changes how these manufacturers can lay out their plant floors.”
Automotive facilities are chaotic as they shift from one model year to the next, so workers need to move quickly through each step of the changeover. AMRs allow them to redeploy paths throughout the shop floor as lines change and model variants multiply. It’s extremely valuable to be able to repurpose space, move lines, and have overall flexibility throughout the plant floor to maximize real estate.
High level of intelligence
AMRs take on dull and dangerous tasks – transferring parts and materials throughout the facility. These robots can calculate the fastest route to get from several different points without following a fixed path, and in case they encounter obstacles, AMRs know how to reroute themselves or call for help.
They use light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology, sensors, and algorithms to safely navigate, even through dynamic environments.
AMRs from MiR broadcast their own WiFi network, allowing users to connect to them via a smartphone or tablet and access dashboards of each robot. From there, the manufacturer can put it into mapping mode and have the AMR drive around the facility to learn its required path. The robot’s LiDAR scanners look about 8" off the ground and use a 360° field of vision (FoV) while it’s driving. Dual-laser scanners placed in the front and back corners detect walls and static objects in the facility (presses, doorways, barriers). As the robot drives, encoders in the wheels stitch together the positions of objects in the shop floor environment and overlay that onto the map to determine their location. Once the scanners and encoder positions are complete, the AMR knows and remains on its designated path. They are ready to work collaboratively with shop-floor workers and transfer materials to the line.
“These mobile robots make people much more efficient; you can keep people in their work areas doing what they’re good at – assembly and quality inspection and those kinds of tasks,” Charles says. “Meanwhile the robots are completing the boring and dull task of walking a cart across the facility or pushing it across with a tugger. It increases the efficiency of employees.”
MiR robots’ sensory inputs ensure a safe driving pattern, feeding data into a planning algorithm that lets the robot know where to go, if it needs to adjust its path, or if it needs to stop to avoid collisions.
They also have a category 3 PL=d rated safety system (a requirement for ISO 13489-1:2006 standards) that is always looking all around the robot to ensure it’s keeping proper distance from objects and people. Any faults are detected in its multi-channel structure. If the AMR runs into something, it can stop and rethink and plan to go an entirely different way.
“The robots have a collaborative nature from a safety standpoint but also from an ease of use standpoint,” Charles adds. “Our user interface is something that’s very intuitive and it allows the customer to take complete ownership of it, view the map, and make any necessary changes.”
Workers view robots’ maps, move positions around, and send robots in a direction using dashboard commands. Users can also define preferred paths or restrict the robot’s speed in high traffic areas. These zones are distinguished by different colors that are seen in the map. AMRs can also communicate to the workers around them via sounds and light cues to indicate their status.
Reimagining the landscape
The flexibility of AMRs support variable production layouts and are changing how those in the industry are thinking about manufacturing.
“There are all these different trim packages,” Charles explains. “You start with the base model of the car, the chassis; and right now, the manufacturing process goes down one aisle, and everything comes together based on how everything’s queued up. Down the road, we might have matrix type manufacturing where there are little hubs. The chassis would come in at the front and depending on what options are being put on it, it would either go to trim package A, B, or C, which would be decided by the robot.”
AMRs are heavily impacting automation capabilities and reinventing how workers operate in the industry. With streamlined workflow and increased productivity, automotive suppliers have more time to focus on further research and development to boost the company’s automated capabilities.
Mobile Industrial Robots A/S (MiR)