The European Commission is to accelerate the automation of intra-factory logistics of small and medium enterprises, through a project called Logistics for Manufacturing SMEs, or L4MS.
The EC says L4MS will “completely digitalize logistics automation in factories”.
Initially, the plan was for L4MS to conceive three pilots and 20 cross-border application experiments to demonstrate “highly autonomous, configurable and hybrid, or human-robot, logistics solutions”, driven by the business needs of the manufacturing SMEs and mid-caps.
The projected solution will allow automation suppliers to develop and deploy logistics solutions “10 times faster and cheaper than the current price”, claim its proponents.
L4MS opens the door for SMEs to utilize robotics and other advance technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtualization.
In a typical factory, the transport of parts and components accounts for 25 per cent of employees, 55 per cent of factory space, and 87 per cent of the production time.
While large manufacturers are quickly adopting mobile robots to increase productivity and flexibility on the factory floor, less than 2 per cent of European SMEs use advanced manufacturing technologies.
With SMEs representing 98 per cent of the manufacturers, European industry is in danger of being left behind.
L4MS is an acceleration program led by the VTT Technical Research Centre, based in Finland.
L4MS is focused on providing inexpensive and flexible logistics automation for SMEs, which requires no infrastructure change, no production downtime and no special expertise.
Ali Muhammad, coordinator of L4MS at VTT, says: “The deployment cost and time of mobile robots will reduce by a factor of 10.
“It will give never before seen flexibility and agility to SMEs for small batch production and will double their productivity.”
L4MS says it will provide an IoT platform called Open Platform for Innovations in Logistics, or Opil, integrated with a 3D simulator as a cloud service for complete virtualization of factories.
Opil will contain the latest navigation, localization, mapping and traffic management services for rapid and cost effective deployment of logistics solutions.
On one side, Opil will support the automation suppliers to develop and display the optimum logistics solutions to SMEs.
And on the other side, virtual factories will support the decision-making process of manufacturing SMEs in selecting the best solution.
Kalle Kantola, vice president, research at VTT, says: “This is a unique opportunity for the SMEs to use robotics and enter the world of artificial intelligence as well as to network at the European level.”
L4MS is described as a one-stop-shop, where European manufacturing SMEs will be able to acquire the complete service package including, not only the latest technology – Opil+3D simulator – but also technical support, business mentoring, training for workers and finance for the modernization of production.
All these services are provided locally on the doorstep of SMEs through a network of regional digital innovation hubs connected to the L4MS.
The length of the L4MS acceleration program is three-and-a-half years, with a budget of €8.8 million – just over $10 million.