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Interview Recap: Getting Started with Mobile Robotics

Bailey Ludlam | 21 December 2022

Recently, Bastian’s Autonomous Vehicles General Manager, Michael Marcum, spoke with other industry experts about insights on getting started with mobile robotics.


“It’s imperative to take the time to think deeply about how automation could change your current processes to avoid unintended consequences,” says Marcum.


What type of tasks and processes are most commonly automated with AGVs and AMRs?

Michael Marcum (Bastian Solutions): Most of our customers’ applications fall into two categories within manufacturing applications. The first is assembly lines, with the AGV serving as an indexing line, interlocked to the customer’s manufacturing execution system (MES) for “no fault forward” of the product. No fault forward manufacturing is the operational strategy of catching mistakes when and where they occur in the manufacturing or assembly process through connected monitoring and communication. Every step of production is checked and must pass inspection (via sensors, cameras, etc.) in order to move to the next step.

The second most utilized application is for material delivery to production lines or shipping areas.

Jeff Chu (Eckhart): Eckhart AGVs are deployed in a diverse range of industries including electric vehicles and automotive, renewable energy, aerospace, defense, e-Commerce and fulfillment, as well as general manufacturing and heavy industry.

Many customers utilize AGVs for assembly line conveyance. Here, AGVs are increasingly the solution of choice in heavy-weight applications (i.e. product forms exceeding 10,000 lbs. or 4.5 tons) compared to traditional 'chain-in-the-floor' tow lines.

Other processes where we see AGVs being used include automated material deliveries such as moving materials autonomously from warehouse or kitting areas to the line, or from fabrication to assembly.

Thierry Delmas (Kivnon): The tasks and processes that can be automated with AGVs/AMRs are continuously expanding. From space-crunched indoor applications to more and more outdoor applications, technological advancements like improved sensor technology and vehicle autonomy are enabling more possibilities. At Kivnon our R&D department constantly works to develop new technologies that respond to current and future challenges. Our mobile robotics solutions today automate many different applications, spanning the automotive, food and beverage, logistics and warehousing, manufacturing, and aeronautics industries. 

What usually motivates companies to adopt automated vehicles?

Chu: The motivation for using AGVs as the method for assembly line conveyance is driven by multiple factors, but primarily value is realized through, one, improved flexibility and two, improved safety and ergonomics.

AGVs are inherently highly flexible and configurable. For example, compared to a traditional tow-line where the path is fixed and each station is coupled to the station prior, AGVs are able to be programmatically assigned a new route depending on the process design.

Take a multi-model assembly environment as an example: AGV users could design a line with divergent flows depending on model variability. This may manifest as a process where an AGV flows through initial assembly areas common to all models, but then branches to a new path for later stations where the assembly activities vary to an extent where it’s beneficial to split the line. This type of process design is not possible with a fully coupled tow-line.

Another key value proposition of AGVs on the assembly line is the ability to de-couple work stations. While all manufacturers strive for a perfectly balanced line, variability inevitably bottle-necks one station at the expense of those behind it. We are increasingly seeing manufacturers design their assembly lines with in-process kanbans (IPKs), or buffers, to help smooth over the intra-station variability. In an AGV-based line, once work-content is completed, the AGV can progress into the buffer even if the station ahead is blocked. This is a major advantage compared to the synchronous towline.

As far as safety is concerned, compared to a tow-line where risks of stopping a cart from an unintended collision are mitigated by audible cues (more a warning, not an intervention) or pin-disengagement bars (which still result in a contact force), the sensing and navigation technology on AGVs can detect interferences in the path and programmatically stop before any contact occurs.

While from an ergonomics perspective, AGVs can be integrated with bespoke top-tooling like rotation trunnions, scissor lifts for adjustable work-heights, or rotating dial-tables to spin the product closer to the operator.

Delmas: The reasons to automate or deploy AGVs/AMRs vary with the customer's needs. More and more manufacturers, research firms, and companies are turning to automation to reduce costs and boost quality. Investing in new technology helps them to compete and to win new opportunities in different industries. 

However, the need occurs most strongly if the business continuously has production issues or if its production methods fail to keep up with customer demands. Also if a business faces labor constraints owing to safety issues, absenteeism, and resignation, which keep employee costs high because of the need to train and rehire. Sometimes, if walkaround time is high for the workers, they end up losing valuable workable hours so this is a potential driver too.

Marcum: While we’re not able to define customer motivations, since they tend to be specific to their business goals, we can say that our customers have told us improved quality and cost reduction are key objectives they target with their automation strategies. Improved quality comes from careful load handling, precise navigational methods, and reliable safety ratings. Cost reduction derives from improved quality, but also from continuous operation capabilities and the ability to scale AGV operations alongside business needs.



This article was in collaboration with BlueBotics and various other industry experts.

Author: Bailey Ludlam

Bailey is the Brand Manager at Bastian Solutions, based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. She is PCM certified through American Marketing Association, has a bachelor’s degree from Washington College and 10 years experience working in marketing and journalism. Outside of work, Bailey enjoys spending time with her husband and two children and can usually be found hiking, running or creating with LEGO bricks. 


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