AGVs streamline medical equipment manufacturing

by Inside Logistics Online Staff
GE has been able to reduce the footprint of its repair stations thanks to the integration of OTTO.

At GE Healthcare’s 280,000-square-foot Repair Operations Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a fleet of OTTO self-driving vehicles is used to deliver parts to workstation cells to handle over 2,000 repairs of medical devices weekly.

OTTO is a self-driving vehicle designed exclusively for material transport in industrial environments. The vehicles combine the reliability of an AGV, efficiency of a conveyor and flexibility of human decision-making by using advanced sensors and artificial intelligence.

The OTTO offers flexible automation and does not require fixed infrastructure (no beacons, magnetic tape or pre-defined laser paths). Each vehicle can operate 24/7 by using opportunity charging technology to autonomously visit its charger for frequent, rapid charges between missions.

The vehicles from OTTO Motors (a division of Clearpath Robotics Inc.) contribute to GE Healthcare’s lean manufacturing strategy and support its mission of providing hospitals and medical centres with reliable, fast repairs.

A mandate for lean

GE Healthcare provides medical technologies and services. When repairs are required on medical devices, it is imperative that the quality repairs are completed quickly and efficiently, and the devices are returned to the medical facility to be put back into service for patients that rely on them.

“We needed to find an on-demand solution for moving materials throughout the facility. OTTO is a perfect solution because it gets materials where they need to be, when they need to be there,” says Patricio Espinosa, director, Americas repair operations at GE Healthcare.

“The system can make a decision to turn and take different routes, which was essential for us. Our process changes every day depending on what parts come in for repair, but OTTO can accommodate all of them.”

Optimizing floor space

GE Healthcare has reduced the size of its repair cell stations at the Repair Operations Center by 40 percent, much of which is due to the integration of the OTTO self-driving vehicles.

Parts are delivered on-demand and navigate from the pick-up point directly to the destination, always taking the fastest route. OTTO is also able to take on multiple jobs within the plant; the same vehicle can be used in different applications across the facility, from supplying parts to repair cells and moving finished goods to shipping zones. This multi-functional capability has led to a 66 percent increase in productive floor space.

“OTTO makes our jobs easier,” says Joe Germait, manufacturing technician at GE Healthcare. “Space is a shortage in our work areas, so it’s helpful that we can call OTTO on demand and have it come pick up our parts. The pick-up times are really quick, and it allows us to switch to the next part more quickly. Occasionally we meet up with OTTO in the aisle ways and it goes right around us.”

From manual to flexible automation

Previous GE repair centres required technicians to manually push carts to move equipment into repair cells and shipping areas. Material transport was typically dependent on other manual tasks, which often led to delays. Furthermore, facilities suffered from wasted floor space due to room needed for carts and fixed infrastructure.

Better care

“It’s GE Healthcare’s priority to enable the best patient care possible and it needs technology partners that contribute to its mission. OTTO plays a critical role in the Milwaukee repair centre by ensuring that materials are in the right place, at the right time, every time,” said Simon Drexler, director of products at OTTO Motors.

The vehicle comes in two styles: the OTTO 1500 and OTTO 100. Both can drive over seven kilometres per hour and they can be outfitted with different attachments to fit the needs of the facility and the payload. The OTTO platform provides obstacle detection and avoidance, and dynamically moves through facilities in the most efficient manner to reach the destination point.