Five MiR500 autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) have improved the warehouse logistics within the Chinese plant for Novo Nordisk, a leading global healthcare company specializing in pharmaceuticals and products to address diabetes and other serious chronic diseases. Previously, the plant used manned forklifts to transport pallets of packaging materials to a series of high bay racks, where a specialized fork truck then lifted and placed the pallets into the racks. The automated solutions from MiR have saved the plant at least 35 hours a week, freeing human workers to focus their skills on higher-value activities.
Headquartered in Denmark, Novo Nordisk is a global pharmaceutical manufacturer with expertise in diabetes as well as serious chronic diseases such as obesity, rare blood and endocrine disorders. The company entered the Chinese market in 1994 and its manufacturing plant for insulin in Tianjin has been operational since 1996. The 40,000 sqm plant underwent an expansion in 2006 to meet growing demands from both domestic and export markets.
In a bid to uphold its competitiveness, Novo Nordisk adopted a holistic, ongoing approach to optimize the productivity of its Tianjin plant. “Our plant is a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility that has already been highly automated. Nevertheless, we felt that its intralogistics system still has rooms for improvement and further optimizing its automation could help,” Zhao Xin, Warehouse Supervisor at Novo Nordisk China plant, said.
In the past, transporting packaging materials is a tedious and labour-intensive process – Workers used forklifts to transport these materials from the truck depot area to the warehouse. In a typical working day, it took more than five hours for the forklifts to deliver materials, and more than eight hours in extremely busy production times.
Zhao Xin said, “Internal transportation is arguably the most tedious work in our Tianjin plant. The transportation route between the depot area and warehouse has a distance of 100 metres with 3 to 4 twists and turns. Also, the path has to go through some crowded areas inside the plant. Therefore, we have decided to use new technology in order to make change.”
Safe and flexible mobile robots enhance intralogistics and optimize human resources allocation
After examining various options, Novo Nordisk chose five MiR500 autonomous mobile robots (AMR) with payload capability of 500 kg and maximum speed of 2.0 m/s.
The fleet of five MiR500 robots are safe, flexible and easy to deploy without changing the internal facility layout. As a result, they are able to seamlessly replace the forklifts to transport packaging materials.
When receiving packaging materials, five robots queue up at the depot area to load the materials on its rack. Equipped with advanced laser-scanning technology, 3D camera, built-in sensors and sophisticated software, the robots can analyse their environment in the long aisles between the two sites, enabling them to avoid the obstacles and autonomously and safely navigate to find an optimal way to their destination.
When the MiR500 robots arrive in the storage area, they wait in an orderly fashion to transport their pallets of packaging materials to a series of high bay racks. Once they have unloaded the pallets, a specialized high bay fork truck then lifts and places the pallets into the high bay racks for storage.
“In our daily operation, the MiR500 works with our people and forklifts within close distance in the warehouse,” Gao Yue, Warehouse Handler at Novo Nordisk China Plant said. “When there are people or obstacles in its way, the mobile robot will slow down or stop moving immediately. Then it will find an alternative path to reach destination by using its autonomous navigation system.”
“MiR500 robots have saved us at least 35 manhours a week for transporting materials. Workers can now focus on more important and high-value tasks in the warehouse. These five robots meet our transportation needs at the warehouse and are well received by the workforce,” he added.
Advanced software empowers centralized control
According to Gao, managing five MiR500 robots is not a difficult and complicated task. MiR Fleet software is easy to program and setup in accordance with Novo Nordisk’s requirements. It also offers centralized control of multiple robots and allows the warehouse technicians to manage the robots without touching them.
“Usually we use MiR Fleet on our tablets to manage and set missions for the robots because it is convenient for us to operate the multi-point running logic of five MiR500 mobile robots whenever and wherever possible,” Gao said.
The warehouse is a dynamic environment, so obstacles such as people, pallets and other robots may appear in the AMRs’ paths and cause congestion. MiR Fleet can direct robots and let them navigate multiple paths safely and orderly. MiR Fleet also lets technicians monitor the daily parameters, manage the tasks and issue instructions for the robots, including having them auto-recharge when needed.
NiRight, MiR Certified System Integrator, has provided the necessary support for the deployment of MiR autonomous mobile robots at Novo Nordisk China Plant. “The successful deployment of five MiR500 mobile robots of Novo Nordisk can free its workers and divert them to tasks of higher value. With this experience, all parties concerned are confident in contemplating the use of more applications of mobile robots from warehouse to production line,” Gao Wenjie, Project Manager of NiRight said.
Exploring more application potential for the MiR500
Building on the success of the initial deployment, the plant is testing additional application options if the MiR500. “I am confident that our future cooperation with MiR will go from strength to strength,” Zhao said.
With the volumes of materials received and shipped increasing each day, the plant is also exploring more possibilities for the MiR500 within the warehouse. The plant continues to optimize the running logic of these five MiR500 mobile robots, to take better advantage of the MiR500 as the company expands and enhances its automation efforts.