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Written by Gizem Gökçer İstanbullu on 24.03.2021.

A mobile robot is a vehicle that can move autonomously around. from place to place to achieve a defined goal. Mobile robots especially have a great usage area in the smart manufacturing facilities. They are generally used in industrial fields for transforming materials, delivery of tools and components around the production area. Mobile robotics can be the best-fit solution since they enable dynamic and continuous support to control internal flows with transporting materials, performing material handling operations and supports the production itself with specifically programmed solutions. But what does it mean to efficiently collaborate with mobile robots and which benefits human workers and companies can get out of it?

The trend of investing in mobile robotics in the manufacturing plants is increasing day by day from the companies to make their production more efficient, safer and agile. The Industry 4.0 approaches can function optimally when production and logistic processes are fluently connected and linked with each other, without resulting idle times for restoring components.

Mobile collaborative robots do not require stationary workspaces and they can move around freely and safely, which make them integrate more in the workspaces. Flexible and adaptable solution alternatives are very critical when a manufacturing environment is always changing. It can directly improve the overall efficiency of production through agility and autonomy.

The benefits of mobile robot integration

As aforementioned, Industry 4.0 approaches highlight the importance of having flexibility and agility in the manufacturing environment. Mobile robots well suit this need for flexible production and rapidly changing production environments. Mobile robots help make the production line more agile by working collaboratively with humans in many possible scenarios at workspaces and dedicated tasks such as transporting high loads, moving loads from one line to the desired destination and towing highly loaded pallets.

Some of the benefits of using mobile robots in production facilities are :

  • Mobile robots can eliminate possible human errors during logistics, especially it can be observed in repetitive tasks.
  • Mobile robots can quickly adapt and evolve in picking and placing activities, especially in the case of performing continuous repetitive tasks that may result in tiredness and distractibility of the human with time.
  • Mobile robots can include different sensors and cameras which can improve safety in the production.
  • Mobile robots can increase flexibility and efficiency in production with resulting less ergonomic problems for human workers.

In fact, by collaborating with a mobile robot, the human operator only needs to load/unload the pallets from the fork, and the mobile robot will safely transport them to their desired destination points in the manufacturing area. By this way, the operator does not need to spend effort, time and labour force for standard transportation tasks.

The application of mobile robots in manufacturing

In mobile robots, the advanced user interface allows to generate maps and is able to define localization in an interactive way. With the integration of AI, mobile robots can be more efficient. Mobile robots include sensors, cameras and software modules for control purposes. Dynamic data that is coming from cameras, sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes and encoders can be used to perform the optimal decision for each condition.

For highlighting, the most used scenarios of industrial mobile robots to collaborate with human in manufacturing facilities can be pointed as:

  • For transporting of high loads, to prevent any ergonomic problems that may occur.
  • For picking and placing activities especially in the case of performing continuous repetitive tasks that may result in tiredness and distractibility of the human with time and, can be used as a quick and flexible support system that can freely move around the assembly line.
  • For transforming materials, delivery of tools and components around the assembly area (especially for the purpose of material handling). Assembly components can be continuously supplied by mobile robots into the shop floor.
  • For the purpose of advanced function controlling situations (voice communication and gesture-based controlling approaches).

Mobile robots usage in the CoLLaboratE project

In the CoLLaboratE project, specially enhanced AGV’s (Automated guided vehicles) are developed for transporting pallets of components related to the different industrial use cases. AGVs are enhanced with required sensors and processors to be able to support collaborative tasks with humans. This depends on the industrial scenarios, which are directly coming from the real assembly operations. Developed AGVs need to support safe navigation and transportation systems with human activity monitoring and intention recognition.

Based on the use cases studied in the CoLLaboratE project, assembly components are continuously supplied by mobile robots into the shop floor. This job sharing between the mobile robot and human will ensure ease of collaborative operation with increasing the efficiency in the assembly tasks. This can be achieved by resulting in less ergonomic problems for the human and decreasing the risk of having any latencies or idle times in the assembly line, which comes from the late component restoring.

In CoLLaboratE, some of the AGV supplied components are used in the following scenarios: transporting electronic cards continuously to the assembly area for LCD TV Card assembly operation, supplying rearview mirror, assisting in wire harness and sensor production for the Windshield assembly operation. Since the proper flow of the assembly operations is critical, components’ availability in the workspace plays an important role.

Moreover, multiple mobile robots can harmonizingly move in the same production area and communicate with the warehouse management system. Mobile robots can include advanced intelligent functions such as person following, voice communication and gesture-based controlling approaches that can be used for communication purposes.

Gesture-based controlling can be critical, especially for humans to control the mobile robots. Gestures need to provide in a perfect communication between a human and a mobile robot and clearly recognized by the sensors on the robot to create fluent and without delayed communication. Some of the human interactions with a robot, such as holding up a hand to make the robot stop and pointing hand to a preferred location to represent the targeted destination, can be included in this concept.

Conclusion

By considering the benefits of mobile robots, mobile collaborative robots can be observed more and more in the upcoming years, especially in the concept of future manufacturing automation and processes. Mobile robots will pave the way for the new level of productivity. With increased mobility, collaborative robots can achieve a great degree of autonomy and will create positive benefits on material handling operations that will bring more freedom to the human to concentrate on more important priorities and tasks.

By collaborative approach between human and mobile robot, humans can assist them in a shared workspace. Mobile robot’s implementation area is not limited to industrial automation and production facilities but can further spread to other sectors and applications such as medical sectors, package delivery systems, customer services support and personal assistance. Also, as an example of possible outdoor applications, mobile robots can be used in agricultural processes for exploring the field, military and underwater environments capturing environment data.

Mobile robots will be working in the real-life industrial environment with humans for the same operation. Gradually, humans might feel more comfortable and safer in their working environment, while sharing their jobs with mobile robots. With the help of the latter, they can concentrate more on critical priorities and tasks.

Hence, it will increase the acceptability of mobile robots. With mobile robots, operators’ unnecessary walking can be minimized, and they can concentrate on optimizing their work habit and make them much more open for learning. By the help of the mobile robots for transporting heavy loads in the manufacturing, possible chronic health complaints of the operators can be decreased which can directly arise from unergonomic tasks. This will increase personal satisfaction and happiness level. Also, this will decrease the risk of workplace injury that can happen due to the repetitive heavy lifting. Additionally, since the mobile robot software and functions can be customised according to the specific task, this creates much more freedom that fully answers job requirements.


gizem
Gizem Gökçer İstanbullu
Arçelik A.Ş., Turkey

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 820767.

The website reflects only the view of the author(s) and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

Contact Information
Prof. Zoe Doulgeri
Automation & Robotics Lab
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering
Thessaloniki 54124, Greece
info(at)collaborate-project(dot)eu
Collaborate Project CoLLaboratE Project
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