It’s a robot revolution, with autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), driverless vehicles and drones, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) dominating the headlines of both consumer and business publications. Yet, there haven’t been many articles exploring the outcomes of pilot projects utilizing these types of automated solutions—perhaps because companies are concerned about losing competitive advantage. Four companies, however, were willing to detail their experiences in “NextGen Technologies in Action,” an article published in the first quarter 2019 issue of MHI Solutions. Among them, automotive supplier HIROTEC AMERICA details how adopting autonomous mobile robotic technology has helped the company make significant strides toward meeting a corporate mandate to operate as a 24-hour/7-days-a-week, lights-out manufacturer.
The company provides body-in-white closures, exhaust systems, and closure manufacturing equipment to multiple global automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). When considering which areas within its current operations were ideal for lights-out operation, HIROTEC decided to apply a robotic solution within their spare parts area.
“We’ve been a supplier of large format, fixed robots to the automotive industry since the 1980s. So, when we looked to take the initial steps into piloting a mobile robot, we looked for process areas that required humans to complete menial, repetitive tasks,” explains HIROTEC’s Vice President of Business Development Gary Krus.
One of the most inefficient processes in spare parts production was HIROTEC’s black oxide process. Steps involve moving parts from bucket to bucket in a specific sequence with delays in between while the parts become oxidized. The final parts are coated in a thin corrosion-resistant surface, which must be consistent to ensure that the parts don’t rust.
Previously, operators completed this process manually. To do so, however, they had to interrupt their other assigned tasks within the machine shop to transport parts to the process line and run them through the dipping procedure. That inefficiency led Krus and his team to apply robotics, specifically the OTTO Motors’ OTTO 1500 autonomous mobile robot outfitted with an integrated Yaskawa Motoman multi-axis dual arm robot.
“By combining the mobility of the mobile platform with the dexterity of the robotic arms, it’s an ideal technology to replicate human labor,” he says. “We wanted to reallocate our existing personnel to more value-added tasks, yet we had to ensure that a robotic solution could do the job and that our employees would be comfortable working around it.”
Encouraged by the successful implementation of the OTTO robot in his own operations, Krus spread the word among his colleagues at different HIROTEC facilities worldwide. He and his colleagues shared their insights based on the experience, documenting ways to make future implementations easier and repeatable. Those guidelines have led to additional pilots of the technology in different applications, he notes.
To read the full Hirotec America case study, as well as additional coverage on Walmart, Coca-Cola and Generac Power Systems, click here.