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A manufacturer of large, off-road vehicles had three objectives for an existing assembly line:
1. Significantly improve throughput without increasing floor space or staff
2. Create a type of assembly line which would be highly scalable for future change and growth
3. Implement appropriate use of new automation where it made financial sense and retain manual processes where they made sense.
SuperiorControls designed and built a completely new assembly line using battery-free automated guided vehicles (AGVs) instead of traditional chain-based assembly line conveyance. A return on investment (ROI) approach was used to design the new line, with consideration for using automation where it was cost-justified while retaining manual processes where the expense of automation was not justified. The line has doubled throughput without an increase in staffing or floor space. The customer chose inductive-power based, intelligent conveyance, which requires installing data and communication cables in shallow channels with a flat floor finish. By choosing this type of conveyance integrated with software, controls, and manufacturing execution system (MES), changes to the line’s path and processes can be implemented with minimal disruption to production.
Multiple battery-free AGV lines were installed for this customer in the United States; additional locations worldwide are under evaluation.
Station to station
Customer benefits include:
1. Fast flexibility and scalability: 90% of the investment is above ground and line changes are minimally disruptive to production. Instead of hiring hundreds of millwrights to take down and install thousands of pounds of steel, the line can be re-routed or expanded with software and controls updates along with minor floor alterations.
2. Asynchronous indexing: Battery-free AGVs move from station to station when work is complete, untethered to any other station. This improved efficiency.
3. Chain-free paths: Unequal task times can be managed by multiple assembly paths without coupling or decoupling or elaborate transfer methods. This has saved time and increased throughput in areas such as test, where the vehicles neither wait in line to enter the test cell nor require any decoupling.
4. Full worker access: By eliminating chains, skillets, and tracks, workers have 360-degree access to the vehicle under production. This is especially important where manual processes are involved and improves safety, efficiency, and ergonomics.
5. Safer worker environment: A flat floor, free of pits, chains, and obstructions, eliminates the associated trip hazards. Battery-free AGVs sense an impediment and stop when someone or something crosses their paths.
6. Intelligent manufacturing: MES modules include error proofing, traceability, vision inspection, kitting, sequencing, and factory information systems, depending on customer requirements.
7. Customized AGVs: Each battery-free AGV is custom designed and can carry tools and cables. For the customer shown, all testing cables travel with the AGV, so that quick-connects for each type of vehicle are immediately available for the testing process. In addition, the AGVs were designed to accommodate multiple vehicle types as well as future vehicles.
8. Battery-free AGVs as opposed to battery-powered: No extra AGVs are required to compensate for battery failure. There are no recharging stations and no concerns regarding battery safety and disposal.
9. Conveyance prove-out: A battery-free AGV test track is available to prove AGVs prior to shipment and reduce installation time at the customer location.
- Rod Emery is vice president of SuperiorControls. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager
SuperiorControls designs and builds systems to advance manufacturing through automation, gaging, and factory intelligence. Headquartered in Plymouth, Mich., SuperiorControls operates engineering and technical centers across North America.
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