Mobile robots help Honeywell stay agile and lean

Three mobile robots from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) are helping Honeywell Analytics keep its manufacturing processes lean and agile by automating the transfer of materials throughout the facility.

Issue & Solution

Honeywell Analytics in Poole, UK produces gas-detection equipment that is used in off-shore oil and mining as well as consumer-grade detection for homes. Lean manufacturing helps Honeywell Analytics stay competitive, but the company depends on the ability to easily change processes, as explained by Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Leader Stuart Harris. “There is a big emphasis on lean within Honeywell, and flexibility is key to lean,” Harris stated. “We want to be able to change things around, to move lines around to suit production, and to pick some troughs for optimization. As with all manufacturing systems, flexibility is at the heart of being able to do that and optimize efficiencies.”

As part of its optimization efforts, Honeywell Analytics uses automation and robotics extensively, but raw materials and assemblies were still being moved around the 91,000 square meter plant on trolleys pushed by employees. Automating that task was a challenge due to the facility layout, in which the warehouse is on one floor and manufacturing across two floors. Delivering materials between manufacturing lines and the warehouse involves navigating multiple narrow corridors and double fire doors, and controlling lifts to travel between floors—key functionality that wasn’t supported by other mobile robots. Design Engineer Timothy Ward said, “When we were initially selecting a mobile robot, the others did not have full lift functionality. They would not be able to support it. That meant that MiR was the stand-out from the range of different products.”

When we were initially selecting a mobile robot, the others did not have full lift functionality. They would not be able to support it. That meant that MiR was the stand-out from the range of different products.

Timothy Ward

Process Engineer at Honeywell Analytics

Mobile robots improve efficiency and free up to six full-time employees

Honeywell has deployed three MiR100 robots in its Poole facility. The MiR robots reduce the amount of time people are pushing trolleys around so they can be up-skilled for better efficiency. “The main challenge with the MiR robot we want to overcome is the staff, who are allocated to pushing carts,” said Ward. “We wanted them to get back onto the production line and drive efficiency. By bringing the MiR robots on-site, we are freeing up six full-time staff members to produce more and make the line more efficient.”

Freeing employees from low-value material-transportation tasks also supports other lean manufacturing goals, including the ability to have multi-skilled staff who can work on a variety of production lines as needed. “We like to have staff that can be multi-trained and multi-skilled so they can work in different parts of the business and help level-load the product,” Ward said. In that way, the MiR robots fit right in—easily learning new routes and processes to adapt to changing production needs.

Powerful software integrates into existing systems

Honeywell Analytics uses the MiR Fleet software to manage three robots in its dynamic environment. The software assigns tasks to available and nearby robots, and ensures safe, efficient operation. Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Leader Stuart Harris explained, “Because we have multiple robots here, we really needed a fleet manager to assign tasks to the robots and make sure that we have only got one robot in a place; particularly, for example, a narrow corridor, where we only want one robot at a time. The fleet manager looks after that for us.” The software was also used to manage elements such as robot speed, so that the robot could move faster in some areas and slower in others. When a robot’s battery is low, it automatically returns to a charging station while it waits for further orders.

MiR robots offer fast payback

Harris described the advantages of using robots for low-level tasks that have historically been done by workers. “It means that there is a whole wealth of efficiencies that we touch upon. There is no waiting for people when they are on breaks, or lunch, or even out of hours before you come in to work or when you go home from work. Robots can continue working and doing the tasks.”

Honeywell typically looks for a return of investment in two years, which Honeywell Analytics expects to easily achieve with the three MiR robots on its site. Ward said, “We'd like to drive the efficiency even more with conveyors and systems, so we are going to invest more money in the MiR system so we can free up more staff and be more flexible as a company.” 

About Honeywell Analytics

Honeywell is a Fortune 100 diversified technology and manufacturing leader, serving customers worldwide with aerospace products and services; control technologies for buildings, homes, and industry; turbochargers; and performance materials. For nearly 50 years, Honeywell Analytics has been protecting people who put their lives on the line every day. Through advanced technology and pure industry know-how, Honeywell Analytics continues to improve and evolve their products.