In suburban Chicago, TRUMPF Group operates a state-of-the-art Smart Factory that not only introduces customers to the company’s machine tool, laser cutting and digital manufacturing technologies, but also manufactures certain parts on site.
The 2,400 square foot factory uses the latest TRUMPF technology in its manufacturing work centers. Additionally, it has deployed autonomous forklifts to automate the movement of materials between and to the plant’s high-tech work centers.
Prior to deploying the system, the site relied on manually operated sit-down forklifts and pallet jacks to move materials. The problem was that this could waste valuable time for skilled production operators who would otherwise be able to focus entirely on manufacturing parts in the Smart Factory’s high-tech work centers. Moving these materials could take two to three hours per shift per operator in some cases.
True to its belief in efficiency and keeping human efforts focused on direct value-added production steps, the company considered automating material handling by implementing automated guided forklifts (AGVs) .
Selected AGV forklifts (AGV Jungheinrich from Mitsubishi Logisnext Americas) integrate with TRUMPF’s production management or “fab” software, automatically moving the right materials to each work center when needed, reliably and safely .
According to Robert Leahy, head of customer and central services, the use of AGVs is part of the company’s philosophy of identifying waste areas and replacing them “by an automatic process” where it makes sense.
Inside the factory, sheet metal is cut with powerful lasers, bent and shaped by robotic arms, and loaded onto pallets by conveyor belts. Before the deployment of the AGV in 2018, these pallets were then moved by human operators using traditional forklifts, but this wasted valuable time for operators in their work centers to manufacture products.
“They’re on the machines forming parts, assembling parts, shipping parts… basically what the customer is paying you for. And that’s only possible with AGVs,” says Leahy.
AGVs integrate with the company’s manufacturing software used to manage the factory’s production processes. With this integration, as soon as materials are ready to be moved from one work center to another, or new materials need to enter the system, the software communicates with the AGV system to trigger the necessary movements. As Leahy explains, this integration allows for a smooth, self-contained flow of materials without delays or unnecessary buildup of materials in process.
“We can see which parts are moving from station to station, which means improved throughput,” says Leahy. “There is no overburden at our facility. We have the right parts on the right machine to produce and meet the customer’s order on time.
The Smart Factory AGV system is considered non-invasive to layout, meaning it does not require special tape or ground guidance infrastructure to enable accurate navigation. Jungheinrich models used include the EKS215a, which is capable of lifting 3,300 pounds and performing two full shifts on a single load. These units use small reflectors at certain points in the installation to support fully autonomous navigation, with Jungheinrich’s fleet management software also forming part of the solution. Jungheinrich’s software manages battery charging, usage levels and IT integration with the company’s software.
The big win with the AGV system, agrees Megan Baumgartner, system control engineering supervisor, comes down to the fact that AGVs allow production operators to stay focused on core tasks and interact with their production machines, rather than working as part-time handlers. . This benefits smart factory personnel, who can focus on production tasks and system knowledge.
“[The operators are] now able to stay in their work center, and I see an increase in their productivity because they don’t leave their work center to pick up a part,” says Baumgartner. “Automated guided vehicles are there to support the workforce. We are able to take our employee and increase their skill set.
About the Author
Roberto Michel Roberto Michel, editor of Modern, has been covering manufacturing and supply chain management trends since 1996, primarily as a former editor and former contributor to Manufacturing Business Technology. He has been a contributor to Modern since 2004. He has worked on numerous daily newspapers, including ProMat, North American Material Handling Logistics, and National Manufacturing Week. You can reach him at: [email protected]