Modular platform - Faster automation for factory logistics?
While large manufacturers aggressively invest in logistics automation, small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) struggle to invest in advanced technology due to the inflexibility and high pricing of solutions and lack of in-house expertise. Aside from the productivity challenges, the lack of standardization and low-cost equipment represent critical constraints for SMEs to adopt this paradigm.
Fast-growing companies tend to direct their investments towards production automation rather than on internal logistics, which, accounts up to half of all the manufacturing costs. For smaller companies, there are not many free platforms that enable integration of various factory equipment e.g. sensors, AGVs, mobile robots or human operators and 3D simulation.
This is why OPIL, Open Platform for Innovations in Logistics was developed. It is a container of different software modules, allowing system integrators and manufacturers create customized logistics solutions together with different robotic systems. It provides easily deployable components like task planning, process optimization, and visualization of the logistics process with human-machine interfaces.
In L4MS project, six Research Centers are developing this common platform with their unique modules. The biggest challenge is of course combining these modules to become interoperable, and adaptive to existing softwares.
Trialing OPIL with companies
Turning traditional factories responsive using industrial IoT is nothing new. What makes OPIL novel is its price point (it is free), modular architecture and capability to connect with 3D virtualization tools.
The open architecture of OPIL also supports the usage of open-source frameworks such as ROS (Robot Operating System) for the development of new components e.g. perception or mobile manipulation. In essence, OPIL can be used to create customized solutions based on the manufacturer’s specific business needs. The description and documentation of OPIL's modules can be found here here
Currently, however OPIL is still tested and developed with 12 teams of manufacturers and technology providers and L4MS experts. These ‘Application Experiments’ will help validate if using OPIL and 3D simulation can reduce the installation time and costs of mobile robots significantly.
Collaborative development takes time
In the early phases of OPIL development, each Competence Center created simple logistics scenarios to test their modules with robots. Our research team at ICENT conducted an experiment for Muraplast, Croatian manufacturer, developing an omnidirectional AGV for their crowded factory floor.
The goal was to test how OPIL’s sensing and navigation module might improve an AGV’s movement. The results confirmed that this platform indeed enabled the deployment of a custom-made module, designed for a specific robotic system.
In our current Application Experiments, the goal is to solve complex logistics workflows including various AGVs, their routing and scheduling, relevant data sharing between them etc. with the help of OPIL. Depending on the robots, software and business requirements of manufacturers, bringing new solutions to factories could potentially become faster thanks to the open source interfaces OPIL offers for vendors.
Seder, M., Petrović, L., Peršić, J., Popović, G., Petković, T., Šelek, A., ... & Petrović, I. (2019). Open Platform Based Mobile Robot Control for Automation in Manufacturing Logistics. IFAC-PapersOnLine, 52(22), 95-100.