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Mobile Robots Improve Global Competitiveness

By Advanced Manufacturing Media
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MiR robots are easily programmed using a web-based interface that maps the facility and establishes way points where the robots stop to deliver products and can be controlled or reprogrammed by any allowed device on the network, including a smartphone.

Two MiR100 robots from Mobile Industrial Robots have improved logistics and efficiency and are helping New Jersey-based manufacturer Magna-Power compete in a global market. The robots have freed the equivalent of three full-time employees from the repetitive, low-value transportation of components and assemblies so that workers can focus their skills on higher-value activities.

Magna-Power is a growing, family-owned company that manufactures programmable power products for industrial and research applications around the world from its 73,000 ft2 (6782 m2) facility in Flemington, NJ. Magna-Power Electronics designs and manufactures robust programmable DC power products in the US that can be found around the world feeding power to national laboratories, universities, and a wide range of industrial sites. The company’s experience in power electronics is reflected in its 1.25 kW to 2000 kW-plus product line, quality service, and reputation for excellence.

With thousands of different product configurations possible, every power product is made to order. According to Adam Pitel, Magna-Power vice president of operations: “The lead time of our products is just as important as the price itself, and we pride ourselves on having among the shortest lead times in the industry. It’s one of the ways that we’re able to compete with overseas manufacturers.”

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Once the robot returns to the stockroom, it automatically connects to its charging station while being reloaded so it can stay on the job all day long.

“To manufacture in New Jersey is tough, and being global is even tougher. To compete, the company has vertically integrated its operations, bringing nearly all operations in-house,” said Magna-Power President Ira Pitel.

The challenge, however, was to increase efficiency in moving parts and subassemblies from the stockroom through multiple operations from sheetmetal and machining to printed circuit board and wire harness assembly, through magnetic core and heat sink manufacturing to final assembly and testing.

“What we found is that moving materials around the different operations of the company takes up a lot of resources,” said Adam Pitel. “People were moving materials from one department to another all day long. We thought it would be great if we could have a way to move those parts around using autonomous vehicles.”

Grant Pitel, Magna-Power’s vice president of engineering, had been looking for some time for a mobile robot similar to the Kiva Systems used exclusively by Amazon in its warehouses. When robotics distributor Applied Controls told Grant that it was now carrying collaborative, autonomous robots from Mobile Industrial Robots, Grant was immediately interested. Magna-Power implemented one MiR100 robot to manage the transportation of parts and assemblies throughout the manufacturing facility and within weeks of its successful implementation added a second MiR robot.

Magna-Power’s two MiR100 robots—nicknamed Scotty and Chekov—are programmed to run “bus routes” throughout the facility, from the stockroom to each manufacturing operation. Stockroom employees kit and load bins on the module shelving on top of the robot, using magnetic identification labels for each department. The robot moves to each of its programmed checkpoints where employees can pause the robot to unload kits and load finished assemblies to go back to inventory. Once it returns to the stockroom, the robot automatically connects to its charging station while being reloaded so it can stay on the job all day long.

Grant has calculated that the robots free the equivalent of three full-time employees from pushing carts around the facility, allowing them to focus on the high-value jobs they were hired to do. “The purpose of the robot is not to replace employees, but to make them more efficient with their time. Now they can focus on the things that we can’t get a robot to do.”

The user interface and programming of the MiR robots made them extremely quick and easy to set up, using any existing connected computer or device—including a smartphone. “One thing that was pretty astonishing for me is that the robot was delivered and 15 minutes later it was unpackaged on the floor,” Adam said. “In another 15 minutes I’m controlling it with my cell phone, and within two hours, this thing is traveling from point to point in our building, after uploading a schematic of our facilities. That just blew me away.”

Today, Magna-Power is implementing the robots as local systems, programmed through MiR’s user-friendly, web-based interface that allows for drag-and-drop programming. The company was also able to add a customized “pause” button to each robot using the onboard I/O. Managers can use a smartphone on the production floor to quickly make updates or edits to the robot’s mission, or even manually control it if necessary.

In the future, Magna-Power could use MiR’s fleet management software, or use Magna-Power’s Wi-Fi and internal software infrastructure, to send commands to the robot. That would allow operators to call the robot when they need it and tell it which parts to bring them, rather than just following its pre-programmed route. Eventually, the robots could be integrated with Magna-Power’s ERP system, so that the robots automatically pick up post-production work orders as they are completed. “It’s a no-brainer this is a pretty flexible solution for us, and we can expand our usage of it over time,” said Adam.

The robot’s physical design offers plenty of flexibility as well. Magna-Power chose to use its existing storage racks for the robots’ top modules so they could easily add or adjust shelves as needed. The robot has a simple four-screw mounting, and using the pattern drawing, the company was ready to mount the top module on the robot as soon as it arrived.

As a power products manufacturer, Magna-Power installs many safety mechanisms on its high-voltage and high-current products, and employee safety with the new robots was a high priority. “When we came in for the demo, we put the MiR robot through its paces. We jumped right in front of the robot, making sure he would stop, and it’s pretty amazing what he can avoid,” said Grant Pitel.

The robot uses multiple sensors, lasers, and cameras to maneuver safely through the facility, following its pre-programmed route. If it encounters a person or obstacle, it can easily reroute to its destination based on sensor awareness and programmed knowledge of the facility’s layout.

Magna-Power says the fast payback for the MiR robot—expected to be less than a year—made the implementation an easy decision. “The robot also helps improve the workflow and what’s expected. You want your employees being productive at their benches, and if you see them walking around in different departments, you know there’s a problem,” explains Grant. “Before, everyone was complaining about not getting their parts fast enough, so it was two or three employees not doing the job. Now we’ve got robots that are actually doing the job that we couldn’t get three people to do.”

Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR), headquartered in Odense, Denmark, develops and markets the MiR100 advanced mobile robot for small-task indoor transportation of items in the manufacturing and healthcare markets.

For more information about Mobile Industrial Robots, go to www.mobile-industrial-robots.com or phone 45 20 377 577.

 

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