Newest intra-factory logistics technology applied in a traditional industry
A Norwegian-based textile company, Devold, is on the way to becoming a forerunner in intra-factory logistics automation within the industry.
“With the help of the L4MS project, we will be able to tackle the bottlenecks in our production. Intra-factory logistics in our sewing department has worked with wooden trolleys since at least 50–60 years, but now we will move to an automated system”, says Tor Jonsson, General Manager at UAB Devold.
Devold was established in 1853 and has long traditions in the manufacturing of knitted garments from wool and wool plans. The company values excellent production quality and is one of the industry’s world-leading brands. Devold’s garment factory is situated in Lithuania, close to its main market, Scandinavia, although it exports garments to 34 countries around the world and is looking for greater presence especially in the US and Canada.
The factory currently employs about 300 people. The factory is highly automated with the newest technologies in the industry, but areas remain where automation is still a dream. About five years ago, Tor Jonsson and his crew started to look for a technology to automate the intra-factory logistics in a sewing hall with 177 sewing stations with specialised functions.
Obvious solutions don’t always work
The most advanced technology, applying AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles), turned out to be unsuitable for the purpose for several reasons. The floor in the sewing hall is dusty, garments are sewn according to special recipes that require a garment to be constantly transferred between sewing stations, and there are several types of garments in the process at any time. The transport needs, therefore, are extremely complex. To apply AGVs would mean renewing the sewing hall layout with more free space for a complex network of AGVs to move around, and still the response time wouldn’t be short enough for the needs of the production process. In addition, this wouldn’t solve the problem of dusty floors that prevent AGVs from moving.
These obstacles led to the idea of applying an overhead transport system. Overhead transport will tackle all of the challenges, and the underutilised space above the sewing stations can be taken into use. Besides this, the software for the system will be an add-on to the existing production control system for easier control and overview of what models are in production and where they are in the process.
If it doesn’t exist, build it
Since there weren’t any systems on the market to fit their specific needs, Devold decided to look for a way to build one. They found a Lithuanian robotics company, Factobotics, as their partner, and following a hint from the Lithuanian Robotics Association, they decided to apply to the L4MS project together.
“This project has already given us detailed visibility into the client’s needs that would be impossible unless teaming up with a client who knows its challenges in detail, and of course an opportunity to see how we could embed the OPIL software into our solution”, says the CEO of Factobotics, Justinas Katkus.
L4MS mentors Päivi and Markus visiting the factory Justinas Katkus from Factobotics
“This Application Experiment, as we call the cases in the project, is a particularly interesting one. Within the project, we develop and apply the Open Platform for Innovations in Logistics (OPIL) Fleet Management System. The system is built for AGVs and this new type of robotic system also helps us develop OPIL to be more flexible”, says the lead of OPIL development, Markus Taumberger, Senior Scientist, VTT.