March 18, 2021

ForwardX TCL 400x275ForwardX, which develops autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), has provided additional details around the deployment of dozens of its Max 300 Lift AMRs to automate the movement of materials across the production facility at the Huizhou factory of Chinese multinational electronics company TCL. The AMRs connect and communicate through a 5G network, which was set up as part of TCL’s 5G+ Smart Factory Initiative.

The company said the project has resulted in improved productivity across the production process, less labor dependency for material handling, and a quicker inventory turnover.

TCL’s operation center acts as the central point of TCL’s global supply chain and manufacturing. With the second largest production capacity in the world, the facility decided to utilize 5G and intelligent robotics to help “elevate its performance to a new level.”

“We believe in and promote the use of intelligent automation, such as AMRs, to support our factories globally by empowering their operations and automating unfulfilling work,” said Caijun Zhao, head of the president’s office for TCL Industries Holdings. “The project [with ForwardX] has been successful so far with seamless collaboration between the AMRs, workers, machines, and loading carts.”

Before the project started, TCL said its management identified four main pain points to tackle in the supply chain management of the operation center:

  • Lack of flexibility: The storage of vital materials was scattered across the facility. Because of the seasonal and fluctuating nature of demand, this made changing production processes slow and more complex.
  • Network issues: Using Wi-Fi networks across the facility caused several blind spots, which disrupted operations. The factory wanted a real-time view into and control of their intralogistics processes.
  • Dependency on manual processes: A low level of automation meant that most material handling tasks were carried out by factory operators. This resulted in high labor costs, and left TCL vulnerable to shifting trends in wages and labor availability, the company said.
  • Facility complexity: The SMT workshop was always full of people, moving equipment, production machinery and material carts, which made errors commonplace. Due to this complexity, the facility was unable to improve efficiency.

 

 

With China Mobile acting as the network service provider and ForwardX Robotics as the intelligent automation provider, TCL completed the project rollout in March 2020. With the new system, material flow consists of the following steps:

  • Using 5G, the TCL manufacturing execution system (MES) pushes production plans out across the facility.
  • The lineside warehouse picks, prepares and organizes materials according to the production plan.
  • Lead time and safety stock levels are set according to production capabilities, and AMRs are triggered to deliver materials to machinery.
  • AMRs automatically navigate to the designated pickup point, where they autonomously dock to and lift material carts before traveling across the facility.
  • At specific dropoff points, the AMRs stop and wait for a corresponding factory operator, who removes the required materials and confirms receipt through an onboard GUI.
  • Once a batch is complete, the MES triggers the AMRs to travel to machines to pick up finished goods.
  • The AMRs then travel to the pickup location, pick up the finished goods, and travel to the warehouse.

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Because of a dynamic environment with lots of moving people and machines, safety features such as obstacle detection and avoidance was key, TCL said.

TCL said the facility’s management made safety a top priority for evaluating solutions, looking to avoid accidents and keep their staff protected. Features such as 360-degree obstacle detection and avoidance through laser- and vision-based sensing found on the Max 300 lift robots were important, the company said.

“When considering solutions, safety is an important factor for us, because our production lines consist of a lot of machines and our environment is highly dynamic with a lot of moving pieces, such as material carts,” said Zhengwei Cai, project manager and senior engineer in the facility. “Therefore, obstacle avoidance and safety functions are very important to us. With ForwardX, the AMRs calculate optimal routes and automatically detect, identify, and avoid collisions with any kind of obstacle.”

WIth positive results, TCL said it is evaluating the use of more ForwardX mobile robots for intralogistics workflows, such as raw material delivery, work-in-process transfer, and finished goods storage at other production locations.

More details on ForwardX and its robots can be found here.