by Bas de Vos, Director of IFS Labs
Although already a market leader, they continuously look for opportunities to widen the gap. As such it felt very natural for IFS Labs to join forces and drive a collaboration project towards an autonomous factory.
Cheer Pack is the leading manufacturer of spouted pouch packaging in North America. The company is a fully integrated manufacturer of injection molded parts, flexible pouches, and pouch filling equipment. Since their Bridgewater facilities opened in 2011, they have produced more than four billion spouted pouches.
Cheer Pack interest in the possibilities of robotizing material movements in their factory started in May 2018, at the IFS World Conference in Atlanta. At that conference, IFS Labs showcased how various technologies and concepts, ranging from AI to Blockchain, can play a role in delivering the Intelligent and Autonomous Enterprise.
On the stand, we demonstrated how a fleet of autonomous vehicles (or robots) could be orchestrated using our core ERP solutions, including how the IFS Dynamic Scheduling Engine optimizes all tasks and activities that the vehicles needed to perform. Information on issues and delays were sent back to the engine, dynamically altering the schedules in order to enable the most optimal use of the vehicles.
Potential - Unlocking the real value of Robotization
It's easy to focus on labor-saving as the core benefit; replacing humans with robots delivers obvious cost savings. However, there is much more to the equation than just "saving money".
The most obvious benefit is that robots are far more efficient than humans; except for the occasional maintenance window, or charging time in this case, robots can work 24/7.
By directly integrating these robots into the IFS optimization solutions, the organization can make sure that the raw materials used by the different machines get delivered just-in-time. In addition, the room for human error is taken away, improving the utilization of the factory by reducing wait times and consequently maximize uptime.
It's also important to note that robots don't get bored. Humans that need to perform the same tasks over and over again have a natural tendency to lose concentration, and as a consequence error rates increase, output reduces and health-related complaints start to be an issue.
There is no such issue with robots, which will perform the same tasks in the same way continuously, and they certainly will not file a complaint with the local labor union.
That said, for Cheer Pack the most important reason to invest in robotics, is the growing challenge to find quality staff to do the work.
Seeing the IFS Labs concept live in action inspired Cheer Pack to move ahead to handle the movement of materials in both its warehouse, as well as on the factory floor, by robots to counter their operational challenges.
Proving the value in a live environment
The first step in the project was to prove the value of the IFS Labs concept on Cheer Pack processes and on the factory floor.
Working together, the Cheer Pack and IFS Labs teams started on-site testing to prove the concept using an MiR200 robot. The trial worked well with few issues, but it did pinpoint some changes that need to be considered around process, on the factory floor and in the ERP application to make the solution work.
For example, needing to change the warehouse layout to enable the robots to park the carts inside their bays, or needing to add additional configuration items inside their IFS ERP solution.
The roll out
Overall, most of the issues were easy to resolve and led to Cheer Pack deciding to proceed into live production with the robotics solution. The team now has a large fleet of robots and multiple material movement scenarios have been implemented. Roughly three months after the initial trial, the first robots were operational and busy hauling carts around the site.
And with great results too, as Cheer Pack Director of IT, Alex Ivkovic noted: "We expect the costs savings to be over 1.5 million US dollars per year. In addition, each and every employee will be retasked to a higher-skilled position helping us with our labor shortage.".
Now, if you feel inspired by this, feel free to reach out and see how IFS Labs can help you as well.