As a key cornerstone of its 2025 Strategy, Škoda Auto is rigorously advancing the digitalisation of its production process. The Czech car manufacturer is using a fully autonomous, self-learning transport robot at the Vrchlabí component plant.
This robot is able to recognise obstacles along its journey through the plant and to incorporate other information from its surroundings when planning its route. If necessary, it changes its course to always get to its destination as quickly as possible. It thereby contributes to further improving safety at work and the efficiency of transport processes at the plant.
“It’s been a conscious decision to use Škoda Auto’s first fully autonomous robot at the Vrchlabí plant. With it, we’re once again highlighting the plant’s key significance as an ultra-modern high-tech location,” said Board Member for Production and Logistics, Michael Oeljeklaus. “With the new transport system, we are consistently continuing to introduce technological innovations at our plants in keeping with Industry 4.0,” added Oeljeklaus.
On one trip, the transport robot can carry a load of up to 130 kg and chooses the correct paths fully autonomously. Unlike traditional automated transport systems, it does not require lane guidance in the form of induction loops, magnetic strips or reflectors. To learn the route, the vehicle only needs to be guided between the stations once via a tablet or joystick. In doing so, it captures its environment as well as changes to its surroundings all by itself and adapts its route if necessary.
The robot navigates in its environment using sensors and laser scanners. It recognises vehicles and stationary obstacles as well as people crossing its path. The control system calculates the approach speed and detects if a collision is imminent. In this case, the robot stops by itself or takes evasive action. Unlike other systems, it immediately adjusts its route based on information from its surroundings, without having to stop in the process. If the fully autonomous robot detects that it will regularly encounter obstacles at a specific point along its journey, it changes its route permanently. If necessary, the electrically powered system is able to travel to all of the destinations at the Vrchlabí plant, which covers 16,000 m2.
The robot completes 120 trips per day and travels a total distance of 35 km on its route between the mechanical measuring centre and the processing machines. The testing and pilot phases have already been completed; the robot is in regular use at the factory starting from June 2018.
In production, Škoda Auto is systematically turning to technology from Industry 4.0, such as cooperating robots. These are used in the production of direct-shift transmissions at the Vrchlabí plant and support the employees with one of the most sensitive tasks in transmission production, inserting the gear actuator piston. A handling robot also supplies dozens of machines with parts and returns empty containers to the warehouse. The extensive ‘transparent factory’ IT system also forms part of operations.