Logistics assistant succeeded by transport robot

It won’t be any surprise: quite a few parts are needed for the production of our high quality screw conveyors. Our former logistics assistant Arie made sure that everyone in production had the material they needed to do their work to hand. But then Arie left to take his well-deserved retirement. What now?

The retirement of a member of staff is not something that hits a company like a bolt from the blue. We therefore had time to prepare for his successor. This is where our corporate philosophy soon kicked in: ‘automated where possible, traditional craftsmanship where necessary’.

How much time does internal transport take?
Is it possible to automate internal transport? And is that useful? We looked at how much time we spent on internal logistics operations. We have 15 workstations in two big production halls 120 metres long and 40 metres wide. This is why we waste a lot of time walking the distances between the workstations and the stores.

560 hours walking a year
We soon arrived at a figure of some 560 hours walking a year. This also includes interruption times. If while fetching a new stock of screws you come across a colleague, it would be strange to purposefully walk past him without saying hello or just chatting about last weekend. That would create a strange work atmosphere, while no one would feel ignored if a robot flew past.

Time saving and more enjoyable work
A big time saving could therefore be made with a transport robot. This would also mean that our production staff would not have to go and fetch parts and would have more time for making screw conveyors. An added benefit: this also means that they can spend more time on the more enjoyable aspects of their work.

In our search for a robot that could offer us the most, we soon came across the MiR 100. This has a loading platform of 660 by 800 mmm which can carry a maximum load of 100 kg. This robot can also pull 300 kg. The vehicle has a speed of 5.4 km/hour and can cover 20 km on one charge. This means it can stay on the move for the whole working day.

An important feature of the MiR is that it can identify its surroundings independently with a 3D-camera, zone scanners and ultrasound sensors. This means that we did not have to make any changes in the factory. To promote integration we decided to call the robot after its predecessor, Arie.

Teething troubles
The new Arie took some time to get used to his new workplace. For example he could sometimes confuse pipes along the aisle with a wall so he would stop and not know which way to go. He could also lose his way due to a low sun or spots of water in the factory. This has now been solved by adjusting the sensors and scanners.

Now a permanent presence
We are now a couple of months further on and Arie is well integrated. He fetches parts from the central stores and takes them to the turning shop and sawmill, takes transport documents from the office to the logistics counter and transports the parts of our screw conveyors between the different workstations.

Post box service
We have programmed a post box service into Arie so that he travels automatically from one workstation to another. At each workstation he toots his horn and the employee then has ten seconds to put an item in his post box or take it out. Then Arie continues to the next station.

Touchscreen operation
We have a touchscreen on each work bench. Our employees can use this to call Arie, who is connected to the Wi-Fi network. The robot then interrupts his post box service to go to the relevant workstation. The employee can then place the item that he wants transported in the crate and tick the name of the recipient on the touchscreen. After delivering the order, Arie resumes his post box service.

Our employees were involved in the arrival of the transport robot at an early stage. This helped him gain acceptance. What is more, for some people he is already invaluable. In the beginning Arie sometimes got lost. He was not so very different from the previous Arie, we joked. Some soon said they could not go on with their work. But they can still fetch their things themselves.

Future plans
If a new employee is well liked, it is not long before his future plans in the company are discussed. Now Arie isn’t the talking kind, but we are full of ideas. The most popular idea though is for Arie to bring round coffee.

But there are also more serious plans. For example we have an extensive ERP system that already carries out many operations automatically. One idea is to have this system send Arie a signal when transport documents are created. Arie can then come and fetch these immediately and take them to the workstation. We think that with the help of our ERP system Arie will soon be able to take over a lot of other operations.

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