Autonomous mobile robots improve logistics
While robots aren’t new to Ford Motor Co., its 3.2 million-sq-ft factory in Almussafes-Valencia, Spain, has added autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to its facility. The body and stamping plant makes 2,000 vehicles a day. Until 2018, workers had to manually deliver fresh industrial and welding materials to the different industrial robot stations within the massive facility, a repetitive and time-consuming task. Plant managers knew they needed to improve their logistics and make these employees available for more valuable tasks.
Using AMRs on the plant floor
Ford decided to purchase a flexible and collaborative mobile robot to deliver the spare parts to the manufacturing plant. The mobile robots avoid unforeseen obstacles, modify their routes or stop when necessary, and work safely alongside people and other vehicles.
Ford equipped the AMRs with an automated shelving system with 17 slots to accommodate materials of different weights and sizes. To avoid errors, the opening and closing of these slots is automated, meaning operators in each area only have access to the materials assigned to them.
“We programmed the AMR to learn the entire plant map, and this, together with the sensors with which it is equipped, means that it does not need any external help to circulate safely,” said Eduardo García Magraner, the plant’s engineering manager.
Ford tested the first robot for a while to see how it would operate in real time. García Magraner said, “It worked flawlessly and has become a very valuable member of the team. When the tests started, the operators were staring at the robot as it passed by, as if in a science fiction movie. Now, they go on with their work knowing that the robot is smart enough to work around them.”
The company introduced two other AMRs shortly after to transport more spare parts for production equipment from the warehouse to the production lines.
A key reason for choosing AMRs was their flexibility. “For us, it was important that the three robots had one key feature — that for the navigation of the robot, no external elements were needed, such as external beacons, magnets or tapes on the ground,” said Miguel Montaña, the facility’s analyst on maintenance control. “So, we simply mapped the test area, and the robot began to work, just like that. In an environment as complex as ours, that is very important.”
For Ford’s employees, ease of use was also a major factor. According to García Magraner, “The robot is well configured so that it can be used by anyone even if they are not familiar with the world of collaborative mobile robots. The system is very user-friendly, as the three robots have their own routes throughout the extensive factory area.”
Mobile robot benefits
Tests conducted by Ford show that one mobile robot alone frees up to 40-human hours per day, allowing workers to dedicate themselves to more complex tasks. “We are proud to have one of the most innovative factories in Europe and pioneers in the use of collaborative mobile robots for the distribution of industrial materials that allow us to be more efficient in our intra-logistics,” said Pepe Pérez, corporate communications manager at Ford Spain.
Ford hopes to find additional applications in which to use the AMRs at the Valencia plant, but also take it to other Ford facilities in Europe. “We have been able to demonstrate that these robots are capable of learning their way by themselves and also interact perfectly well with our employees and forklift trucks or any other moving element with total safety,” concluded Helios Alverez, the plant manager.
Keywords: mobile robots, autonomous vehicles
Ford Motor added autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to their facility in Valencia, Spain.
The AMRs they used were able to work seamlessly on the plant floor and assist human workers.
Having a mobile robot frees up humans to work on complex tasks.
What benefits could your plant derive from AMRs and in what way?
The Ford Valencia engine plant website says the site is 270 acres and employs approximately 900 people.