ANT PLANT BY EID Robotics
Manufacturing companies are constantly looking for innovative ways to cut costs, improve efficiency and increase quality. As a result, even many small- to mid-sized companies are turning to low-cost manufacturers abroad.
However, as locating, controlling and running distant sites can be very difficult, this approach can have many disadvantages, such as creating additional costs and logistics issues for shipping products where and when they are needed. Additional problems can include overcapacity, time-to-market and international legal matters.
Founded in 2009, Finnish firm EID Robotics is designing automation and robotics solutions for small- and large-scale applications. The ANT plant, the company’s new concept, is an appealing and cost-effective alternative to traditional, globalised manufacturing.
The ANT plant’s key advantages are modularity, speed, flexibility and control. It is a fully scalable, fully automated micro-factory that can be located near the manufacturer’s actual site, but is also suited to integration as a module into existing production lines elsewhere.
An ANT plant is defined more by capacity than factory size. However, the maximum size of the line itself should be not more than 8 metres wide and up to 16 metres long so that it can be positioned nearby. Thus, the ANT plant occupies less space, reduces operational costs, makes logistics easier by reducing distances for transporting parts, and reduces a company’s carbon footprint.
The plant is placed where the products are actually needed, allowing companies to optimise energy and distribution costs and to significantly reduce the time it takes to deliver goods to market. Furthermore, because the ANT plant only manufactures products when they are actually needed, companies can improve their supply chain and better align supply with demand. This helps them to limit their working capital and avoid excessive inventory. As all materials are delivered through an EID Robotics logistics hub, and the ANT plant is following a ‘local part usage’ principle, the ‘call offs’ to the hub will be made manually based on ANT plant usage reports.
The first fully functioning ANT plant is manufacturing LED bulbs – and DENSO
VS-068 robots are performing pick-and-place tasks and accurate machine vision-based placing during the manufacturing process, among others.
EID Robotics has opted for DENSO robots due to their flexibility, the robot arm length and controller size, and their speed. As DENSO robots have a small controller, are easy to integrate in any production line and offer an easy set-up for interfaces with other applications, they are perfectly suited for the ANT plant. In addition, their size and technical capabilities make them the first choice for working with parts weighing up to 7 kg.
The ANT plant offers a compact concept including everything from the automated assembly line to quality testing and even packaging, thus serving as an actual factory and offering customer-friendly services using cloud services. For example, EID Robotics monitors and supports all ANT plant production processes remotely for data tracking, production analysis (to be used for improvements in the product development) and preventive maintenance, guaranteeing that any micro-factory performs at full capacity. Therefore, the ANT plant is also an excellent example for an innovative Industry 4.0 application.
Currently, these cloud services are being provided by EID Robotics own server and software, but in the future the company will opt for Microsoft’s Azure. The robot is connected to these services through the production line’s control PC, running with an EID Robotics -designed software.
The ANT plant is controlled by a Beckhoff PLC, while the robot and other devices are working as slaves for the PLC and the communication interface is based on EtherCAT. Users can interact with the system via a PC-based GUI (Graphical User Interface), which also communicates with other high level systems. The interaction between the DENSO robot, the ANT plant system as such and the EID Robotics remote control is carried out through an external connection via VPN. The DENSO robot is programmed in Wincaps III.
According to EID Robotics, the existing ANT plant has proved to be the brightest way to manufacture LED lighting. Currently, it is manufacturing one million LED tubes per year. It has proved that it can deliver high-quality products that can be marketed faster and successfully provide high production numbers and competitive profit margins at the same time. The ANT plant will expand its LED production line to include both LED bulbs and LED down lights (mounted, circular LED lights) that will be introduced later in 2017.
As the ANT plant technology centre is collecting data from all its micro-factories, all deviations can be corrected immediately by remote support or onsite support when needed.
While the ANT plant is currently being scheduled to be used for the manufacturing of LED tubes, bulbs, down lights and luminaries, EID Robotics is now also looking for further options to employ robot-based ANT plants in the future.