As Henk J glides through the ITT KONI shock absorber plant in The Netherlands, many employees give a friendly nod and “Hallo Henk” greeting. Henk doesn’t answer, but that’s because Henk is an automated guided vehicle (AGV) that acts as a smart, constantly moving driverless forklift. Or maybe Henk assumes employees in data-flashing Google Glass eyewear are fellow non-speaking mobile robots like “him.”
This is Lean life at ITT: humans and mobile robots meshing together to optimize logistics, increase production efficiency and deliver better customer service and solutions for less costs.
Henk J moves a constant stream of materials and product between different departments in small “milk runs” that go out when Henk arrives, not when the load is 100 percent full. This replaces the previous batching process where forklift drivers sometimes waited for completed loads to be ready. In short, Henk J’s deliveries get where they are needed, when they are needed.
When employees slip on their augmented reality Google Glass eyewear, they are donning hands-free computing devices and barcode scanners that display picking and delivery information for more than 1,800 small and bigger parts. This wearable technology greatly increases the speed and accuracy of order picking versus the wireless terminals and paper order forms of the past.
Any time ITT considers adding robotics in our plants, we first weigh their strengths versus workers’ capabilities. Unlike the movies, the robots don’t always win. For example, while Henk J is right for repeatable, standard tasks, it can’t outperform employees when it comes to more complex jobs that require detailed and nuanced decision-making.
“We are working to combine the best of both worlds,” says Erik Bleeker, Project Manager for KONI. “The right combination of employee expertise and automated solutions allows us to realize quicker reactions to customer needs.”
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