Automating parts delivery in an automotive plant

16 February 2018

In most manufacturing sectors – automotive especially – speed on the assembly line is economically crucial and having parts in the right place at the right time is vital so the movement of parts around the plant floor is closely monitored.

One major automotive manufacturer was looking to make parts delivery to the line more efficient. Parts delivery to the line was undertaken by a worker manually pushing a dolly containing parts. The company wanted to automated this work.

The company spoke to UK-based Mirage Ltd to offer a solution. Mirage designs and builds bespoke machinery and automated solutions including include Autonomously Guided Vehicles (AGVs), jigs and fixtures, control panels and software solutions, conveyors, and mechanical handling equipment, with poka-yoke mechanisms built-in.

Poka-yoke is a Japanese phrase that means ‘mistake-proofing’. In a lean manufacturing process, this helps operators avoid lasting errors and it is an integrated part of many of Mirage’s solutions.

AGVs can offer an alternative to manual transportation throughout a location, but key to their successful implementation is a wireless network whose speed can keep up with the constantly moving machines. Mirage needed to come up with a communication solution that would link the AGVs to a master control panel. An alternative solution – wireless RS232 communications over a radio link – did not work out: Mirage noted the Modbus communications were slow and time-consuming to implement.

“Our need for simplified configuration led us to ProSoft Technology,” said Adam Tatton, director at Mirage. “ProSoft’s Industrial Hotspot radios would allow the end user to use its own PLC,” explained Tatton. “This meant it would be able to use a corresponding specialist HMI screen, which allowed it to improve production. Meanwhile, the use of Ethernet radios saved Mirage configuration time by eliminating the need for Modbus commands.”

“Mirage had to lower the AGV to accommodate the dollies and space was at a premium,” said Myles Heinekey, regional sales manager at ProSoft. “To help support this AGV modification, we selected a lower-profile OMNI antenna with MIMO and loaned the antenna to them to see if that would help.”

According to Tatton, it was this type of local technical and sales support and demonstration of the solution that was a key factor in opting to use ProSoft’s solutions in the application.

With the new setup, the AGV starts by driving under the dolly with parts for vehicle assembly. The parts are dropped off at the assembly line before the AGV returns in a loop to the collection point to drop off the empty dolly and pick up a new one. The radios, meanwhile, are constantly sending diagnostic and location data to the main control panel. “The live program monitoring has improved commissioning and speeded up system integration on site,” said Tatton.

In addition, the software complexity for this solution has been reduced from the alternative setup, making it easier to use and program. Data volume has also been reduced, and the reduced engineering time has helped decrease manufacturing costs.

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