CHICAGO – Most manufacturers are “habitually violating more than one principle of lean manufacturing daily: They’re moving too much, too frequently and there’s a lot of congestion at line-site operations because of that,” Bill Torrens, director of sales for Otto Motors, said at the IMTS conference Monday.
So, Otto Motors secured a patch of floor space at the manufacturing tech conference in large part to promote “a more spontaneous delivery of materials so that line-site areas are completely free of congestion.”
The Canadian firm, which counts GE and John Deere among its customers, sells two self-driving vehicles (SDVs). One can handle up to 1500 kg payload capacity; the other can transport 100 kg.
The smaller of the two – the OTTO 100 – is meant to move materials from kitting and sub-assembly areas to the line site. (Otto Motors, a unit of ClearPath, is not connected to Otto, the self-driving trucking tech firm formerly known as Ottomotto LLC and now a unit of Uber.)
The firm’s SDVs use proprietary, autonomous-navigation software with Light Detection and Ranging sensors (LIDAR) sensors on the front and back, letting them detect and skirt around obstacles. They also use this laser light technology to map their environment.
Otto Motors’ vehicles use natural features localization: Lasers in the front and back help it map a facility upon initial integration. “OTTO operates with humanistic capability. Like people navigate in and out of buildings using their eyes and storing landmarks in their memory along the way, OTTO uses sensors to perceive the world and create a map. The map is then centrally stored so the vehicle can understand where it is physically at all times, in real time.”
“Our vehicles can dynamically move material from dock 5 to station 52, which can be hundreds of feet away,” he added. “All the end user has to do is give is simply dispatch the task.”
The SDVs also use “dynamic path planning” that helps them move around anything or anyone in its way.
Between natural features localization and dynamic path planning, Torrens believes that “SDVs have the power to fundamentally change material transport for indoor operations.”
“One of the benefits of the technology is that the physical location of kitting and sub-assembly areas can now be decoupled from the destination of the point of use,” he said. “As we get into high-mixed model configurations within most factories, companies are now beginning to understand that the material coming in from third-party suppliers is best managed near the periphery of the building.”
In an auto assembly plant, for example, “you’ll notice that the kitting location has a physical relation to its point of consumption,” but, he said, that’s primarily driven by limitations of traditional AGVs that follow magnetic tape on the floor to get from point A to B.
The idea – to deliver materials to line site operations just in time (JIT), in smaller quantities – builds on the “lean manufacturing” movement. That flowed out of the JIT manufacturing philosophy developed in Japan in the 1960s and 1970s. The new twist is delivering materials without human contact or infrastructure.
“It means we don’t have to move large, bulky containers through the facility anymore,” Torrens said. “We’re using what you need, when you need it at the point of use.”
Otto Motors is competing with Seegrid and Adept. The former follows fixed paths. And while the latter can do dynamic path planning, it does not have the same form factor arrangement that OTTO has. It’s less able to adapt to complicated environments, he said.
OTTO can be equipped with several appliances, including carts, lifts, and conveyors. In between tasks, the vehicle returns to a docking station to charge.
GE and John Deere are both currently using Otto Motor’s SDVs.
“Our vehicles launched in the market within the last year and have gauged interest across a variety of applications and industries within manufacturing,” Torrens said. “Otto embraces Industry 4.0 capability and offers a glimpse into what self-driving vehicle technology can offer.”