Auto parts maker Denso has seen fast results from deploying six MiR250 autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in its 800,000-sq.-ft. powertrain component production facility in Athens, Tenn. A pilot program between its warehouse and production areas delivered results within six months, freeing six workers from pushing carts and allowing them to move to valueadded roles.
The project was quickly expanded to bring components directly to line-side production for just-intime efficiencies. Support for the robots has grown quickly among employees with workers in other departments requesting robot support for transporting goods such as maintenance supplies and spare parts. The company has also purchased five MiR500 robots for anticipated new business. Denso is one of MiR’s largest global customers with MiR robots running in four U.S. locations, three in Europe and two in Asia.
Like most manufacturers, Denso is always looking for ways to increase efficiency and productivity.
“We knew we had a lot of people that were getting paid to move parts all day long, walking carts from one place to the other,” explains Travis Olinger, TIE engineer, Denso. “If people are only conveying parts then that’s a non-valueadded activity, and we had plenty of open jobs for value-added activities within the production environment.
“We wanted to pay people to make parts for us that make us money,” he adds, “and not pay them to move parts that cost us money.”
A better way
Research showed that Denso associates were walking up to 12 miles per day moving material between production and the warehouse, spending about 60 percent of their time pushing carts. The engineering team knew that the cost and lack of flexibility of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) could not address the company’s dynamic environment that requires regular route changes.
Additional challenges included narrow aisles for maneuvering and heavy metal parts to be transported. The team tested MiR robots against competitors and were quickly impressed by their performance.
The MiR250 offers significant advantages, including use of Rest APIs. The team at Denso was also attracted to its 2 m/sec. speed, 250-kg payload to handle heavy metal parts and ability to navigate narrow spaces. Standardizing on the MiR250 shelf-lifter and ROEQ carts allows Denso to expand quickly into other areas using the same cart base and customizing it for each use.
The MiR robots bring significant advantages in flexibility, safety and user-friendliness and uniquely met other Denso requirements, as well.
“MiR stood out for its ability to use Rest API calls, intuitive nature of the fleet, ease of mapping, ease of mission creation and ease of changing locations,” Olinger says. “It was just extremely intuitive compared to the other platforms that we looked at.”
Working with MiR partner Advanced Control Solutions (ACS), Denso was able to develop an information flow using Rest API to support on-time deliveries, manage charging and proximity cues to prioritize missions, and allow associates on the floor to call for the robots. Denso has also integrated a robot to automatically open the door in and out of a cleanroom area using MiR I/O modules to send wireless signals to the roll-up door controller.
Olinger explains how MiR as a company also stood out. “MiR was prepared to support us, as Denso North America, from the numbers we were going to roll out. We looked at some companies that just didn’t have that same support structure and history, and we didn’t think that they could keep up.”
He adds that the information sharing has been huge. “It’s not just a vendor that we’ve bought something from. They have grown with us, they have become a partner and they are instrumental in how we are now expanding.”
MiR provided a week of onsite MiR Academy training, including for Denso employees who could be groomed into super-user roles to support the project long-term. MiR has also assigned a Denso North America-specific contact, created a group for Denso on the MiR community site and conducts monthly meetings with Denso.
With support from MiR and ACS to ensure a smooth rollout, Denso achieved initial setup in a day, and the robots were deployed to production after about a week of testing. After that, Denso engineers were able to manage most new deployments independently.
Denso’s ROI plans for projects are typically less than two years, but the indirect cost reduction from the MiR robots replacing conveyance achieved ROI in one year or less. Within six months of project launch, Denso was able to cover all lines in the ignition plant with MiR robots and redeploy six workers to add greater value to the company.
Denso has also seen improvements in employee morale and ergonomics as well as overall efficiency gains and a change in company culture with an automation mindset focused on streamlined processes. This represents a major change in how the engineering team designs production lines with how components are delivered lineside as a primary consideration right out of the gate, not something that is considered later.
“At this point, we’ve been operating MiR robots since September 2020 and we’ve run more than a half million successful missions, and they have not called in sick one single day,” Olinger concludes.