Omron has taken human-machine collaboration to a level previously unseen on the factory floor, with its breakthrough Intelligent Cell Production Line concept.
Integrating sensing, vision and robotics, the Intelligent Cell Production Line, an example of an advanced production line control solution, enhances the performance of both humans and robots as they learn from one another. Accelerated employee training and knowledge transfer, zero defect production and enhanced workflow efficiency are just three of the direct benefits that many manufacturers, including high-mix, low-volume (HMLV) operations, will glean from implementing this new line control approach.
The brand-new production line control platform has been tested and deployed at Omron’s flagship manufacturing factories in Japan and China with impressive results. At the Kusatsu factory in Japan, assembly time was reduced by half and productivity improved by between 25% and 200% in high-mix and variable production.
Antonio Farras, General Manager at the Omron Automation Centre in Europe, explains the thinking behind the new line control concept: “Skilled worker shortages, social distancing measures and economic pressures are making it increasingly difficult to improve productivity and maintain quality when focusing on high mix, low-volume manufacturing. In this context, technological innovations such as AI and IoT offer huge potential for solving some of the problems faced by companies operating in this industry.”
Fast-track and reinforced training
Antonio continues: “We have harnessed these technologies to visualise a new manufacturing environment that combines the strengths of humans and robots. Employees can be trained in almost no time and real time work checks, through sensors and automated visual tools, rapidly improve their skills while guaranteeing product quality. We believe this control solution has the potential to transform the performance of production and assembly lines the world over in terms of quality control, training and productivity.”
Omron’s Intelligent Cell Production Line concept uses smart sensing and integrated control to enable dynamic optimisation of assembly lines. In an HMLV production scenario, the line is an innovative control and information system supporting efficient and high-quality production where high-mix and variable-volume manufacturing is required.
Consistent quality and control
During each step of the production or assembly process, sensors and automated visual tools ensure consistent product quality. Any mistakes or skipped processes are detected in real time, maintaining the pace of assembly. Cobots check the quality of the assembly and correct errors for zero defect production. This also provides support, correction and training that improves the skills of employees without the need for intervention from human line managers.
Omron’s Intelligent Cell Production Line can also enhance materials handing efficiency; intra-logistics can be improved through the use of autonomous robots that are capable of feeding production lines with just-in-time materials and many more benefits. These include reducing work-in-progress inventory and mistakes, identifying the worker and order type for optimised machine adaption, coaching for multi product orders in small batches and tracking and tracing for sustainability and serialisation
The concept was previewed at Omron’s virtual exhibition (industrial.omron.eu/en/tours/virtual-exhibition), where visitors can take a virtual tour of a line that executes multi-product manufacturing in small quantities flexibly and efficiently, focusing on human and machine collaboration. The line demonstrates how process efficiencies can be achieved by combining the strengths of humans with mobile and collaborative robots working safely together in assembly, machine tending and inspection tasks.
Antonio concluded: “With the demonstration of our Intelligent Cell Production Line, we show how innovations such as IoT and AI can be put to practical use to create a collaborative factory with huge gains for the manufacturer and workforce. This approach is neither human dominated nor fully automated but flexible and safe, with people and machines complementing each other’s strengths to support highly efficient assembly and production.”