Tesla isn’t the only robot and software champ in the auto industry. Well, I can’t personally evaluate that, but note that BMW Group has just launched a new company that is fully focused on becoming “a leading supplier of autonomous robotics solutions in the logistics sector.”
The company is called IDEALworks GmbH (because normal names are so out of date), with the IDEAL acronym representing “Industry Driven Engineering for Autonomous Logistics.” Naturally.
But What’s an STR?
Here are some of the deets on the first IDEALworks product:
“The Smart Transport Robot, STR, was developed in 2015 in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute. The flat, autonomous and mobile robots can transport goods weighing up to one ton to their destination. They independently calculate the best route and move freely around the space using the SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) navigation method. The SLAM algorithm does not require permanent navigation transmitters to be installed in buildings and can therefore be set up quickly in a new environment without requiring any structural adjustments. An integrated battery module from the BMW i3 is able to supply the STR with power for at least an entire shift. The next generation of the STR will be rolled out at the end of 2020. Currently, more than 130 STRs are already in series production at several different BMW Group production sites.”
“In founding IDEALworks, we are creating a new business segment for our logistics solutions. In recent years, our logistics innovation team has been working in depth on the digitalization and automatization of production logistics and has developed some unique solutions. The Smart Transport Robot, STR, in particular has met with great response and has seen demand from both within and outside of the BMW Group. Founding IDEALworks GmbH is now the logical next step for the BMW Group as a driver of innovation,” explained Milan Nedeljković, the member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Production, to mark its foundation.
As far as the decision marking part of the robot, the brains of the STR are called an iw.hub. The company writes that iw.hub is “the first compact industrialized computer actively cooled and certified to operate in industrial environments,” and notes that it is powered by a Nvidia AGX GPU, enabling “complex decision-making and AI inference on the edge.”
Initial Use at BMW
Uptime is 98%, with each unit traveling an average of 20 km a day in current applications. The robots are in use right now in BMW’s seat factory in Munich, Germany.
“The iw.hubs are responsible for running the seat assembly lines in ten-minute cycles with pre-assembled backrests, heads and center armrests. A key question is, of course, is when the current business case for using iw.hubs to this extent will pay off. With the investment of four hubs, four employees can be relieved from mundane and repetitive loading and unloading tasks, so that they can focus on their core competencies. In a two-shift operation with eight hubs, the purchase will pay for itself after only one year, based on an average wage costs of €75,000 per year and employee, marking a fast ROI for this use-case.”
Sounds like fun! And that’s a great ROI. But is that it? An STR to help produce seats?
Nope. The new team, which is composed of 30 people with a variety of skillsets and nationalities, has more in mind.
“We are entering completely new terrain with IDEALworks GmbH. Up until now, our development has focused on automotive production and its logistics,” said Jimmy Nassif, CTO IDEALworks GmbH. He continued: “Our perspective is changing now. We are becoming a provider of logistics robotics beyond the automotive industry. We are preparing some innovations for the coming months.”
Syncreon Pilot Use
Also, there was recently an external pilot program conducted at Syncreon with iw.hubs. “The Syncreon Group is a company that provides specialized logistics, operational excellence, and value-added solutions in warehouse management, inbound to manufacturing, export packing and transport management. Syncreon is a global player for intralogistics for industrial company’s worldwide. The location in Neutraubling has been opened in 2003 where car parts for the BMW Group are being packed to be ready to be shipped to global destinations including China, USA, Brazil, or Thailand.
“In Neutraubling, the iw.hubs are used to support the employees in their daily work, so that they can concentrate on their main tasks while their secondary workload is reduced. Furthermore, the processes within the company are becoming standardized with the help of our equipment. At the beginning of such a pilot, the iw.hubs are first implemented and made operational. To do this, one of our employees uses the device to run a one-time scan of the entire factory floor or the routes that the hub has to take, and uses the intelligent system to create a virtual map of the environment that is stored in the cloud. This map is the basis for the route calculation of the robots but is constantly adapted and optimized with the help of on board algorithms.
“At Syncreon our modular platform is used for the reception and transport of empty and full goods, where our robots bring good to designated areas or parking spaces, from where it is then transported out of the warehouse. These processes already functioned autonomously on the second day and by the end of the first week the missions they received were 100% successful.”