Located in the Huizhou Zhongkai High-tech Development Zone, TCL’s Operation Center serves as the central point of the multinational electronics company’s global supply chain and manufacturing operations. The facility specializes in surface-mount technology processes.
TCL identified four pain points in the supply chain management of the TCL Operation Center:
- Lack of flexibility: The storage of vital materials was scattered across the facility and, with the seasonal and fluctuating nature of demand, this made changing production processes slow and more complex.
- Network issues: Using Wi-Fi networks across the facility caused a number of blind spots. The factory wanted a real-time view into and control of their intralogistics processes.
- Dependency on manual processes: Most material handling tasks were carried out by factory operators. This resulted in high labor costs and left TCL vulnerable to shifting trends in wages and labor availability.
- Facility complexity: Full of people, moving equipment, production machinery, and material carts, the workshop was a complex environment that made errors commonplace.
When considering potential solutions, the facility’s management made safety a top priority. TCL claimed the facility has the second-largest production capacity in the world, so it also looked towards 5G and robotics to elevate its performance to a new level.
Ultimately, TCL installed dozens of ForwardX Max 300 Lift Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) to automate the movement of materials across the production facility. Offering 360-degree obstacle detection and avoidance through laser- and vision-based sensing, the AMRs automatically navigate to the designated pick-up point where the autonomously dock to and lift material carts, before traveling across the facility. You can watch a video of this case study here.
At specific drop-off points, the ForwardX AMRs stop and await a corresponding factory operator who removes the required materials and confirms receipt through the onboard GUI. Once a batch is complete, the manufacturing execution system (MES) triggers the AMRs to travel to machines to pick up finished goods. The AMRs travel to the pick-up location and pick up the finished goods before traveling to the warehouse.
“We believe in and promote the use of intelligent automation, such as AMRs, to support our factories globally by empowering their operations and automating unfulfilling work,” said Caijun Zhao, head of the president’s office for TCL Industries Holdings. “The project (with ForwardX) has been successful so far with seamless collaboration between the AMRs, workers, machines, and loading carts.”
TCL completed the project rollout in March 2020 with China Mobile acting as the network service provider. Using 5G, TCL’s MES pushes production plans out across the facility. The lineside warehouse picks, prepares, and organizes materials according to the production plan. The lead time and safety stock levels are set according to production capabilities and AMRs are triggered to deliver material to machinery.
So far, the project has resulted in improved productivity across the production process, less labor dependency for material handling, and a quicker inventory turnover.
TCL is now evaluating the use of more ForwardX AMRs for intralogistics workflows, such as raw material delivery, work-in-process transfer, and finished goods storage, in their other production locations. The goal to achieve unmanned material flow throughout its manufacturing facilities.