AMRs Support Lean Manufacturing Initiatives
Staff posted on October 25, 2017 |
Robots have freed six full-time employees for higher-value tasks.

Three MiR autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are automating the transfer of materials throughout a Honeywell Analytics facility. Intuitive web programming lets Honeywell easily change production lines to meet its lean manufacturing goals, and the MiR100s were the only AMRs available that could autonomously control lifts to navigate the company’s multi-story facility.

MiR AGV taking an elevator. (Image courtesy of Honeywell)
MiR AMR taking an elevator. (Image courtesy of Honeywell)

Automating Material Transportation In Challenging Environment

Honeywell Analytics in Poole, UK produces gas-detection equipment that is used in off-shore oil and mining as well as consumer-grade detection for homes. Lean manufacturing helps Honeywell Analytics stay competitive, but the company depends on the ability to easily change processes, as explained by Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Leader Stuart Harris. “There is a big emphasis on lean within Honeywell, and flexibility is key to lean,” Harris stated. “We want to be able to change things around, to move lines around to suit production, and to pick some troughs for optimization. As with all manufacturing systems, flexibility is at the heart of being able to do that and optimize efficiencies.”

As part of its optimization efforts, Honeywell Analytics uses automation and robotics extensively, but raw materials and assemblies were still being moved around the 91,000-square meter (approximately 980,000 sq. ft.) plant on trolleys pushed by employees. Automating that task was a challenge due to the facility layout, in which the warehouse is on one floor and manufacturing across two floors. Delivering materials between manufacturing lines and the warehouse involves navigating multiple narrow corridors and double fire doors, and controlling lifts to travel between floors—key functionality that wasn’t supported by other AMRs, or by autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs). Design Engineer Timothy Ward said, “When we were initially selecting a mobile robot, the others did not have full lift functionality. They would not be able to support it.” 

MiR AGVs at Honeywell. (Image courtesy of Honeywell)

MiR AMRs at Honeywell. (Image courtesy of Honeywell)

AMRs improve efficiency and free up to six full-time employees

The robots reduce the amount of time people are pushing trolleys around so they can be up-skilled for better efficiency. “The main challenge with the robot we want to overcome is the staff, who are allocated to pushing carts,” said Ward. “We wanted them to get back onto the production line and drive efficiency. By bringing the robots on-site, we are freeing up six full-time staff members to produce more and make the line more efficient.”

Freeing employees from low-value material-transportation tasks also supports other lean manufacturing goals, including the ability to have multi-skilled staff who can work on a variety of production lines as needed. “We like to have staff that can be multi-trained and multi-skilled so they can work in different parts of the business and help level-load the product,” Ward said. In that way, the AMRs fit right in—easily learning new routes and processes to adapt to changing production needs.

Ward adds, “One of the bottlenecks that we have overcome is that we have a service department that has deliveries at random times throughout the day. They are a small team of people, so they have to go down and collect the goods and then they are not working on the service equipment that they have got on their bench. Now that we use the AMRs, they do not have to go and collect the equipment themselves.”

AMRs offer fast payback and support future automation plans

Harris described the advantages of using AMRs for low-level tasks that have historically been done by workers. “It means that there is a whole wealth of efficiencies that we touch upon. There is no waiting for people when they are on breaks, or lunch, or even out of hours before you come in to work or when you go home from work. Robots can continue working and doing the tasks.”

For more on autonomous guided vehicles, check out Pushing Robotic Efficiency with AGVs

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