Ford Motor Co. is no stranger to robots, but its manufacturing plant in Almussafes-Valencia, Spain, needed to automate a manual and time-consuming process. To do so, Ford Spain has deployed collaborative mobile robots from Mobile Industrial Robots ApS.
Ford Spain makes 2,000 vehicles per day in its Valencia plant, including models popular in Europe such as the Kuga, Mondeo, and S-Max. Optimizing its internal logistics would affect both workers and overall productivity.
Industrial automation is already used to assemble automobiles at Ford Spain, but the delivery of industrial and welding materials to different robotic stations of the body and stamping plant was repetitive and time-consuming. Retrieving spare parts to feed robots was not a value-added task for employees, according to Ford Spain.
Ford Spain decided to be the first Ford plant in Europe to try collaborative mobile robots, turning to Odense, Denmark-based Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR), which is owned by U.S.-based Teradyne Inc.
Ford Spain bought its first MiR100 robot a year and a half ago. The autonomous mobile robot (AMR) is named for its payload capacity of 100kg (220.4 lb.) and delivers spare parts in the plant. It is able to avoid unforeseen obstacles, modify its route as necessary, and work alongside humans and other vehicles.
The autonomous navigation system of the MiR robots provided the flexibility that Ford Spain sought. The company eventually acquired two more AMRs.
“For us, it was important that the three MiR robots had one key feature — that for the navigation of the robot, no external elements were needed, such as external beacons, magnets, or tapes on the ground,” said Miguel Montaña, a maintenance control analyst at Ford Spain. “So, we simply mapped the test area, and the robot began to work, just like that. In an environment as complex as ours, that is very important.”
“Of the three MiR100 robots we currently use, the first one that arrived at our factory was baptized with the name ‘Survival,’ because it has survived in a very hostile environment,” said Eduardo Garcia Magraner, engineering manager of the body and stamping area at Ford Spain. “We programmed it to learn the entire plant map, and this, together with the sensors with which it is equipped, means that it does not need any external help to circulate safely.”
“One of the first applications that we developed in [the] Ford Spain body and stamping plant with the MiR autonomous collaborative robot was to transport spare parts for production equipment from the warehouse to the production lines,” he recalled. “And now, we can say that Survival has survived to this hostile environment, and today continues to distribute these items from the warehouse to the production lines.”
Ease of use was another important factor for adoption, said Garcia Magraner.
“The robot is well configured so that it can be used by anyone, even if they are not familiar with the world of collaborative mobile robots,” he said. “The system is very user-friendly, as the three MiR robots have their own routes throughout the extensive factory area.”
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Results at Ford Spain
“We are proud to have one of the most innovative factories in Europe and [to be] pioneers in the use of collaborative mobile robots for the distribution of industrial materials that allow us to be more efficient with our intra-logistics,” said Pepe Pérez, corporate communications manager at Ford Spain.
“When the tests started, the operators were staring at the robot as it passed by, as if in a science fiction movie,” said Garcia Magraner. “Now, they go on with their work knowing that the robot is smart enough to work around them.”
After testing the MiR100, Ford Spain concluded that “it worked flawlessly and has become a very valuable member of the team,” he added. “Hopefully, we can take it to other Ford facilities.”
Ford Spain found that one MiR AMR freed up to 40 staff hours per day, enabling employees to take on more complex and engaging tasks.
To further suit its needs, Ford Spain added an automated shelving system with 17 slots for materials of different sizes and weights. Operators in each area of the plant have access to only the shelves with the materials they need.
“The incorporation of the three MiR robots has allowed us to turn a routine distribution of spare items into a highly qualified job,” said Helios Alvarez, manager of the body and stamping plant. He said he expects Ford Spain to find more uses for the robots.
“The satisfaction we have achieved with the implementation of these the MiR robots in the distribution of industrial materials is allowing us to open new fields of expansion to incorporate new MiR robots within the scope of the body and stamping plant and even going beyond, to other areas within the factory,” said Alvarez. “We have been able to demonstrate that these robots are capable of learning their way by themselves and also interact perfectly well with our employees and forklift trucks or any other moving element with total safety.”
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