Automation has great potential but, according to Robin Hanson (PhD in Science at Chalmers and leader of the AKTA project), there is still a long way to go before Swedish industry utilises it to its full capability for materials handling.
“At present, automation is used in the manufacturing process, but has made very little headway when it comes to materials supply. There are a number of examples, but no one has been able to harness automation's capabilities in a way that is significant and competitive”, he says.
Collaboration with Volvo and Schenker
The newly started AKTA project aims to speed up development, and gather knowledge on when and how automation can be used in materials handling to achieve the greatest benefit. Chalmers researchers from the Department of Technology Management and Economics and the Department of Product and Production Development are joining forces to work in the project, along with several major partner companies such as AB Volvo, Schenker and FlexLink.
“We hope to generate knowledge that enables a greater
and better use of automation in Swedish industry. There is great
potential in this area.”
The intention is to develop automation strategies and solutions that span the entire materials supply chain, from warehouse to assembly. The possibilities are great.
“It involves concepts such as warehouse automation, AGV (automatic guided vehicles) to transport materials, smart glasses, and robots in the picking processes. We will look at collaborative workflows, where human operators work together with robots. While there is a great deal of interest, this has not yet seen widespread application”, he says.
The hope is to make it possible for Swedish industry to use automation to a greater extent – and thereby save both time and money. Robin Hanson points out, however, that there are a number of obstacles to overcome, such as ensuring that the automated processes are just as reliable and maintain the same level of quality as the manual ones.
“Right now, we don't have everything in place to reach our automation goal. Part of the problem is the amount of money required for investments. Another challenge is the reduced flexibility sometimes associated with automated processes”, he says.
More automation is nessecary
Finding the processes and situations where automation generates the biggest benefit is therefore a critical challenge. It is here that Robin Hanson considers the breadth of the project a strength. Having several companies involved gives researchers the opportunity to explore automation in companies with different products, conditions, and needs.
“We hope to generate knowledge that enables a greater and better use of automation in Swedish industry. There is great potential in this area. We want to help tap into it”, he says.
Text: Ulrika Ernström
The AKTA project – Automation of Kitting, Transport and Assembly – is being funded by VINNOVA and will be conducted between autumn 2016 and winter 2018.
The project is being led by Robin Hanson, PhD in Science at Chalmers, Department of Technology Management and Economics, in collaboration with researchers from Chalmers' Department of Product and Production Development.
The project has a budget of over SEK six million and is being conducted in partnership with FlexLink, AB Volvo, Schenker Logistics AB, Lorentzen & Wettre AB, CEJN AB, Väderstad AB and Mälardalen University, Robotdalen (Robot Valley).