Industry 4.0 Includes Occupational Health and Safety When Defining Automated Mobile Robot Selection

Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs) are an important advancement in material handling Industry 4.0 solutions. This is particularly true in the automotive sector which has strong Lean Manufacturing demands of adaptability, precision, and flexibility. AMRs must respond to the various requirements and production fluctuation, including the ability to easily change the layout, add more vehicles to increase the capacity.

These autonomous solutions are part of the occupational health and safety requirements. The Industry 4.0 paradigm requires maintaining significant flexibility without magnetic tape guidance; it also mandates preserving scalability and safe transport of sensitive goods. Unlike human fork truck drivers, one metric of quality is the high precision movements and perfect repeatability found in AMRs.

While Industry 4.0 metrics do not focus exclusively on high levels of personal safety, there is universal agreement that safety cannot be compromised. Ease of integration to automated equipment is part of every quality conversation, yet not ever at the cost of personal safety.

Industrial manufacturers attempt to compare and contrast the value proposition of various AMR vendors. Ultimately, the organizations’ process improvement roadmap must be aligned with the product selected to achieve maximum throughput, productivity, and rapid ROI while maintaining regulatory health and safety standards. 

Ironically, so many AMR vendors are not lean themselves. Without an intrinsic understanding of Lean Manufacturing, the bells and whistles of each product fail to comport with companies’ values. AutoGuide’s differentiation is based on a manufacturing businesses structure (product company with active product roadmaps, and integrators with deep experience), Value (Cost of Ownership), Lean Manufacturing (proven technologies that have a direct benefit for the user), Made in USA, and shorter lead times.

Industry 4.0: Lean Manufacturing and Occupational Health and Safety Challenges
Every AMR vendor claims to have high quality and a focus on occupational health and safety. Few express this as better initial quality (fewer defects) or reliability (uptime incident/failures). A structured New Product Development phase gate process must include Design for Reliability and V&V testing (Verification and Validation) that produces standardized products that can be supported in the field.  

Safety managers can be uniquely handled through a Failure Review Board and an 8D process for root cause analysis. With standard version-controlled products, the conditions are duplicated in the lab to propagate corrective actions or continuous improvements to all the units in the field.  

Safety and Quality Differentiation
While nearly all AMR vendors claim to be safe and compliant to B56.5-2012, most fall short at full speed and when fully loaded. Few companies exceed these requirements utilizing a non-contact collision avoidance system that changes scanner zones (slow/stop/e-stop) based on the current speed and direction of the vehicle. Additionally, the use of regenerative braking for normal stops and a physical disc brake to assist for emergency stops are important features to ensure all occupational health and safety thresholds are met. In busy manufacturing plants, e-stop buttons, audible (horn) and visual (light pole and strobes) indicators, as well as an onboard Operator Interface (OI) screen with system status and diagnostics, guarantee a safe outcome.

24/7 remote diagnostics capabilities ensure plant and safety managers can monitor three-shift operations across a global enterprise. Even for those companies tiptoeing into the Industry 4.0 realm, the migration from manual fork trucks to AMRs is handled with ease because these systems are equipped with a driver onboard platform for hybrid operation (auto/manual).

Rob Sullivan, president and CEO of AutoGuide Mobile Robots, is a proven robotics and automation leader with a solid track record of pioneering innovative products. With more than 30 years of career advancement in high technology companies ranging from burgeoning start-ups to established multinational corporations, he offers a rare combination of business leadership and engineering expertise that resulted in the development and commercialization of numerous cutting-edge products. Sullivan has built and fostered high-performing teams and outsource partnerships that delivered quality products faster than industry norms. He holds 46 patents pertaining to robotics and automation utilized in manufacturing, distribution, and logistics.

Posted on Feb 08, 2019