ŠKODA AUTO is increasingly aligning production and logistics with Industry 4.0 technologies. In the automatic small parts warehouse (SPW), which opened about a year ago, autonomous robots take on many transport tasks and work hand in hand with the employees. Two autonomous robots and two ŠKODA employees work together to put the small parts for vehicle production into storage, for example.
Michael Oeljeklaus, ŠKODA AUTO Board Member for Production and Logistics, stressed, “ŠKODA AUTO is consistently turning to the latest technologies to make our employees’ workspaces even safer and more efficient,” adding, “In our company, humans and robots already successfully work every day hand in hand. This future-oriented way of collaborating is therefore a key point in the ŠKODA 2025 Strategy for aligning industrial processes with the Industry 4.0 principles.”
ŠKODA AUTO’s Kvasiny plant is a key pillar in the car manufacturer’s production network and is considered one of the most modern manufacturing locations in the industry. ŠKODA currently manufactures its SUPERB, KODIAQ and KAROQ models in Kvasiny. From 2019, the SUPERB with plug-in hybrid drivetrain will also be rolling off the production line at the plant in East Bohemia. ŠKODA AUTO has invested heavily in the plant’s expansion in order to reach a capacity of more than 300,000 units per year there.
In accordance with Industry 4.0 principles, the focus of the renovations and expansions is on automation in production and production logistics. Thus, a high degree of automation can be found in the automatic small parts warehouse (SPW) in Kvasiny, where man and machine work hand in hand. In June 2018, ŠKODA was awarded the expert audience prize at the ELA European Logistics Awards for this collaboration.
Covering 1,750 m2, the small parts warehouse at the Kvasiny plant offers space for almost 45,000 shipping crates known as small load carriers (SLC). Driverless transport vehicles are used early on when the parts are put into storage: they take the delivered crates, identify their shape and contents using a camera and scanner, and transport them into the warehouse. There, two robots and two ŠKODA employees sort the parts into the racks. When a parts order is placed in production, other robots take the parts from the small load carriers and load them onto autonomous floor conveyors. These travel autonomously to the assembly line, where the small parts arrive just in sequence, i.e. in exactly the order they should be installed. RFID tags (Radio-Frequency IDentification) store information about how the transport vehicles should change their journey when they are carrying parts to the assembly line. Thanks to this information, they know whether to speed up, slow down or stop, and whether they need to store material.
If small parts are required particularly quickly in production, ŠKODA employees help out. For these express deliveries, ergonomics and workplace safety are first priority: the workstations for manual pickers are equipped with rotating and height-adjustable desks for optimal posture while working. For small load carriers weighing more than 8 kg, a claw arm is ready to take the strain off the employees.
The transport robots are 1.40 m long and 0.90 m wide. Depending on the version, they can carry loads of 1,300-2,000 kg to two production lines and have a speed of 2 m/s (7.2 km/h). In addition to a battery for their electric drive, the 35 automated robots are also fitted with a computer, safety scanners, speakers, a blue safety light and other warning lights. First and foremost, this equipment provides workplace safety: if the equipment detects people or obstacles in its path, it stops. As a warning, it plays music chosen by its human colleagues. A further 11 transport robots in Kvasiny are guided via laser technology. They orientate themselves towards reflective dots attached along the conveyor path.