In state-of-the-art automotive manufacturing, modularity and versatility are increasingly important factors when it comes to planning and implementing material supply trolleys for intralogistics.
If you observe the Audi site in Neckarsulm, Germany, where the Audi A8 is manufactured over several floors, the truth of the above statement becomes clear. In today’s automotive industry, customers are buying top-of-the-range models and can choose from a wide range of design options and additional extras to customize their vehicle however they want. In terms of production, especially the interior fit-out, this means numerous different types of components need to be stored in the warehouse. In addition, because the vehicles are produced in sequence and based on precise advance planning, the required materials must arrive at the line in sufficient quantities and, most importantly, in the right order. Often, conventional methods of transport used in the automotive industry such as manually operated tugger trains are inadequate in such situations.
Perfect for intralogistics – Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) Systems
Automated material transport solutions are becoming more and more common in manufacturing industries today. AGV systems can be connected directly to production planning processes via digital interfaces, so they always know when which components need to be available in which area of production. In an ideal scenario, warehouse staff also receive their loading list in an entirely digital format on a tablet. A barcode or similar interface link this list to a material supply trolley in the warehouse onto which the relevant articles are then placed.
As the loading list is linked to a material supply trolley, the only thing left for staff to do is acknowledge that everything has been loaded for transport. The IT system behind these AGVs for intralogistics then plans and sets priorities for the entire material transport process – from the collection and the delivery at the production line right through to the removal of empty containers. The AGVs are continuously synchronized to ensure the fleet works to optimum capacity. If an error occurs, they can transfer their current order to another vehicle. Those carrying out urgent orders are automatically given the right of way. Breaks are also used efficiently by AGVs by charging their batteries at one of the many inductive charging stations.
The ideal link between storage and production
As they move about, the AGVs are guided by a multi-level pathway. A plan of the production facility is stored in their memory and they use distinctive waypoints to work out their current position. These landmarks can include load-bearing columns in the facility that are marked especially for that purpose. At the Audi site in Neckarsulm, the project planners opted for red flowerpots containing artificial plants. Besides coordinating the individual shipments and ensuring the vehicles can find their way, another key challenge when implementing a driver-less transport system is working out how to physically connect each material supply trolley to an AGV.
In Neckarsulm, various contact points have been fitted underneath the trolleys. The system identifies which type of material supply trolley is being moved based on the arrangement of these points. Among other things, this influences how big the safety zone around the AGV needs to be so as to ensures its human colleagues in the warehouse and production facility are always kept out of harm’s way. If a person or object crosses its path, the AGV system automatically stops for several seconds – enough time for staff members, for example, to get out of the safety zone. Failing that, the system brings the shipment to a halt and reports its status to the control center.
Efficient intralogistics thanks to versatile supply trolleys
To keep the required safety zone and thus the likelihood of unplanned stops on the intralogistics AGV system to an absolute minimum, the material supply trolleys need to have an exceptionally compact design and be as stable as possible. This is also important because many supply trolleys must be moved together in a lift to the production area, which is located on a different floor. Moreover, ensuring the trolleys are low in weight maximizes the load that can be carried in each transport operation. Due to the many different components used in outfitting the interior of the state-of-the-art premium vehicles, a number of material supply trolley variants had to be developed for the AGVs deployed in Audi A8 production.
That is why Audi in Neckarsulm opted to work with item to put these material supply trolleys in place. Besides the quality offered by the item MB Building Kit System and Profile Tube System D30, it was primarily the close consultation and implementation of prototypes that won the company over. Together with an onsite customer adviser, the individual trolleys were planned, built at item, and delivered to Audi ready to use. By combining the most suitable item components for each transport task as part of a modular design approach, every material supply trolley achieves the optimum packing density. What’s more, built-in turning and drawer systems improve ergonomics during loading and picking. Last but not least, the stable screw connections ensure that every single trolley can be easily adapted to a different requirements profile when production switches from one model of vehicle to another. The Audi site in Neckarsulm therefore benefits from a modular, versatile, and future-proof overall system for reducing intralogistics costs.