Real-time locating system maximizes worker safety
Already one of the most advanced automotive production plants in Europe, Volkswagen Autoeuropa in Portugal once again upped its game by introducing an intelligent real-time locating system to improve worker safety and to maximize operational efficiency.
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To say that Volkswagen’s industrial complex in Palmela near Lisbon is large is an understatement. Every day, thousands of employees and hundreds of vehicles crisscross its facilities, which are spread out over two million square meters. On site traffic – whether on foot, bicycle, motorbike, or other vehicle – mirrors that of a small town.
Volkswagen Autoeuropa’s busiest internal junction itself sees up to 70 man-operated parts-delivery tugger trains and 50 Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) every hour. Operators needed to ensure maximum safety for its workers and optimize the traffic flow. “The combination of Simatic RTLS (real-time locating system) and the web-based Location Intelligence software proved to be the winning formula.
“Long before the introduction of AGVs, the area was already known for its limited visibility and narrow corridors,” says Diogo Graça, logistics planning specialist from Volkswagen Autoeuropa. “With the introduction of AGVs, however, it became impossible to ensure a fluid operation between our logistics assets.” The answer to an incident-free juncture is to build a system that would allow AGVs to ‘see’ traffic lights, just as tugger train drivers do.
Siemens with his partner Introsys, in close collaboration with Volkswagen Autoeuropa, developed a customized solution that combined existing traffic lights with Simatic RTLS and Location Intelligence software. Simatic RTLS can precisely locate assets in production and logistics, while the AI-assisted LI software manages geofences, tracking the movement of the different vehicles in real time, and optimizing routes and processes.
Combined, they can locate stationary and mobile people and objects with an accuracy of 30 cm. A normal phone GPS, in comparison, can pinpoint someone’s location within a few meters at best. When an AGV crosses the boundaries of a certain area, the geofences create an alert. The system processes the alert and sends a signal to the AGV commanding it to either stop or go.
Seamless communication and easy implementation
Another key element of the solution is the ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, which has a higher accuracy than wi-fi. Production environments are overflowing with wi-fi signals and automated machines. “Any interference on the flux of the tugger trains or the AGVs would mean a stop in production,” explains Nelson Alves, automation engineer from Siemens Solutions Partner Introsys. Siemens’ UWB ensures seamless communication between vehicles, transponders, and the software without interfering with normal operations.
Implementation of the customized solution went down without a hitch. “Within half an hour, all movement in that crossroad was regulated,” Diogo Graça comments. "Once the workers realized that the traffic lights were working, traffic flow went smoothly, he adds. Since the system was installed, incidents in the high-traffic zone has gone down to zero.
Infinite data and new possibilities
“’What are the next steps?’, the customer asked us the other day,” says Daniel Santiago, member of the solutions sales enablement team at Siemens. The data generated and collected holds high potential. Volkswagen Autoeuropa can locate their material at all times – extremely helpful tool for just-in-time assembly. With the right tools anonymized data can be analyzed and used to simulate, plan, and change routes and logistics. “Data analytics can be applied to all kinds of vehicles, cleaning and maintenance carts, even bicycles that are used in the factory,” says António Ascenção Castro, digital connectivity engineer from Siemens.
Fully recognizing the solution's potential to ensure even better safety and higher operational efficiency, operators at Volkswagen Autoeuropa are already looking to expand its use throughout the plant. Together with Siemens and Introsys, and in line with its pioneering spirit, the company will continue forging new paths in the world of automotive production.
Volkswagen Autoeuropa Lda. is an automotive assembly plant, located in the city of Palmela, near Lisbon, Portugal. Formed in 1991, it began operations in 1995 fully owned by Volkswagen. It is the largest foreign industrial investment in Portugal.