Mobile robots smarten up Toyota’s new parts centre
Published on April 28, 2020 in Flexible Manufacturing
Intelligent robots and sophisticated design are helping Toyota to achieve a higher level of efficiency at its new warehouse in Sydney, Australia.
Japanese carmaker Toyota has now commissioned what it describes as “the most advanced automotive distribution centre in Australia” as part of its strategy of transitioning from manufacturing to purely logistical operations in the country.
The new Toyota Parts Centre (TPC) is located at Kemps Creek, an emerging industrial hub in Western Sydney, and is one of four the company now operates in Australia. The new two-level, 44,000 sq.m facility is also the most advanced and introduces a higher level of technical sophistication in materials handling technology to Toyota’s warehousing operations in the country. In particular, it will see the company using, for the first time, a fleet of autonomous intelligent vehicles (AIVs) to move parts around the facility.
Warehouse efficiency with mobile robots
The fleet of autonomous intelligent vehicles for warehousing reduces manual carrying of parts. The AIVs are designed to operate with people safely and have the intelligence to pick out the best path for the job or follow pre-determined paths. They help to reduce conveyance in processes, in other words repetitive non-value add work, to achieve a leaner and more productive warehouse.
The AIVs moving around the facility consist of five Omron LD-90 mobile robots (tcm:502-80433) which can carry payloads of up to 50kg and travel at speeds of one metre per second. They are fitted with fully integrated roll-tops so that plastic crates with parts can be easily picked up and then transferred onto fixed conveyors. Safety measures include programming for the robots to signal their presence audibly by playing music or verbal safety warnings such as ‘moving forward’, ‘reversing’ and ‘stand clear’.
Rather than load-carrying capability, autonomy and flexibility are the real watchwords of these AIVs. The machines carry enough onboard processing power to enable them to determine the optimal route for each individual journey and they can operate up to 15 hours on a single charge. They incorporate Omron’s NJ and NX controllers, HMI/SCADA software, as well as variable speed drives and safety systems, all controlled by its Sysmac Studio automation software.
In addition, the new system features EtherCAT industrial fieldbus technology, which Toyota selected in 2016 as its preferred industrial Ethernet implementation, so that all its new facilities around the world would have the same system. Moreover, future-proofing against subsequent greater requirements is provided by the ability of the system to support up to a hundred AIVs through the use of a single enterprise manager fleet controller. The installation shows multiple LDs running autonomously without any changes to the environment, no physical guides are used.
Efficient parts delivery to dealers
According to Toyota, the new facility houses more than 128,000 components for Toyota and Lexus vehicles and ships approximately 27,000 items every day. “Parts and accessories are received from a number of local and overseas suppliers for all of our vehicles, both commercial and passenger,” the spokesperson says. Dealerships have access to the parts storage data at Toyota’s new facility so that they can know immediately if a required part is available.
Batches of different parts for delivery to individual dealerships are collated centrally with, again, repeated use of handheld scanners to verify that the correct parts are assigned to particular outgoing consignments. This information is verified by issuing to the driver of the outgoing delivery truck a document confirming the contents of all deliveries, which is simultaneously transmitted to the dealers.
Delivery requests are made through an online ordering system using a proprietary software system that was developed by Toyota in Japan for its warehousing operations. This is used to implement what Toyota describes as a “right part, right place, right time” methodology to ensure that parts are checked, packed and shipped to the recipient exactly as required. To help facilitate this, a progress control board displays the status and operational performance of each order. Toyota reports that this warehousing system ensures efficient processing and dispatch of parts, with the majority of components received within two days from receipt of request for standard daily stock orders.