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The Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation

Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies

Date: Monday 20 June 2022

AMR is the further development of the AGV, a driverless transport system. Since the start of the 2000s, AGVs have been deployed in warehouses, but they need help along their route from rack to rack to the manufacturing area. The assistance takes the form of reflectors on walls, stripes attached to the floor, or similar aids. AGVs travel prescribed routes that – ideally- are closed off to people as much as possible. They have a tough time dealing with unforeseen disruptions. The name behind the abbreviation tells the story: AGV stands for automated guided system. These vehicles are automated, but not autonomous, and they are guided.

Robots like the “GoPal” from a Danish manufacturer actually find their way spatially on their own. They are already doing something that the auto industry and transportation policy- makers can only dream of: autonomous driving. But they naturally benefit from the technological progress now being made. Improved sensors to identify obstacles. Artificial intelligence, making it possible to interpret these obstacles rationally and constructively. Is the silhouette in front of me a pallet? Or is it a person who is likely to be moving away shortly? For human beings, this is a very simple thought. For a robot, the task is anything but trivial. In warehouses as elsewhere , time is an important factor.

People do not immediately recognize intelligence in some creatures. The rectangular, flat black box that drives around Freudenberg Sealing Technologies mixing plant in Weinheim seems to be single-minded and to capture the essence of monotony – but the opposite is true. The “GoPal”2 can make decisions on its own.

“When you are in its way, it recognizes the situation and it waits”, said Christian Pfeifer, Manager, Competence Centre Mixing in Weinheim.” And if it sees that you are not moving away, it recalculates its route and looks for another path”.

Logistics has long been considered a poor field for value creation: When goods only had to be carted from point A to point B, it was impossible to make money doing it. Hand trucks were followed by mechanical aids such as forklifts and conveyor belts. Conveyor belts are static and inflexible, while forklifts require a driver. In many warehouses and factories, they pose an especially high risk of accidents and injuries.

A swarm that delivers
The Omron from the Japanese manufacturer of the same name is another version of the AMR. Two of these units work in the Freudenberg Sealing Technologies plant in North Shields. The work also involves collecting individual components and delivering them to the right station, still dedicated bays currently. The molding machines can even put in a call to robots on their own when they need more components.

“Before the introduction, employees had to do that. It took 10 minutes per machine and per shift/” said Martin Sims, Process Development Engineer at North Shields. That worked out to more than an hour and a half on non-value-creating activities per person. Two AMR units have been in operation at the plant since February. It’s a start, and it’s already paying off.

At the Weinheim mixing plant, just a single AMR is driving around, but that is expected to change. “Then they will communicate with one another. When we need a load, the vehicles will coordinate to see which one is in the neighbourhood.” That was an impossibility technologically until a few years ago. It is the result of advances in network technologies such as 5G. AMRs are opening up completely new dimensions in plant and warehouse logistics: a swarm of autonomous, communicating vehicles that, with computer support, guarantee the best possible distribution and delivery of goods and individual parts. And, at the very least, operate with an antlike level of coordination.