How Lean Manufacturing Eliminates Waste in Industrial Environments

  • October 09, 2018
  • Feature
How Lean Manufacturing Eliminates Waste in Industrial  Environments
How Lean Manufacturing Eliminates Waste in Industrial Environments

By Rob Sullivan, President and CEO, AutoGuide Mobile Robots

The mobile robot proliferation is an extension of lean manufacturing principles. Whether labor savings are from tugger application or with fork attachments, reliable navigation that requires no magnetic tape or RFID tags to guide its way safely through a facility, the growth the automonous environment is unstoppable.

The two primary prongs of lean manufacturing eliminate waste and continuous process improvement are quantified in the manufacturing and distribution sectors by reduced walk time, improved safety, and zero-defect production.

Lean manufacturing or lean production is a systematic method for waste minimization ("Muda") within a manufacturing system without sacrificing productivity. Lean methodologies consider waste created through overburden ("Muri") and waste created through unevenness in workloads ("Mura"). Working from the perspective of the client who consumes a product or service, "value" is any action or process for which a customer would be willing to pay.

Lean manufacturing makes obvious what adds value, by reducing everything else (which is not adding value). This management philosophy is derived mostly from the Toyota Production System (TPS) and identified as "lean" only in the 1990s. TPS is renowned for its focus on reduction of the original Toyota seven wastes to improve overall customer value, but there are varying perspectives on how this is best achieved. The steady growth of Toyota, from a small company to the world's largest automaker has focused attention on how it has achieved this success.

A great example of that is highlighted by Toyota Alabama President David Fernandes for transforming a difficult job into a simple automated task.


Flexibility and Reliability Ensures Continuous Process Improvement

For materials handling, whether autonomous mobile robots or Industry 4.0 initiatives, the requirement of flexible programming of AGVs and mobile robots requires a modular design. The design should allow for different vehicle and load handling frame configurations to accommodate specific handling needs including the driver platform trail frame and tiller handle controls, straddle, or counterbalance fork attachments and various unit-load attachments such as conveyors and lift decks.

The SurePath guidance system works in both manufacturing and warehouse environments. Users drive a vehicle through the facility to map the environment and teach it the anticipated routes. The mapping data is automatically uploaded wirelessly to a single PC or server where it can be modified and integrated for the precise operation including pick-drop points, intersection control, and the preferred routing logic.

The system controls traffic and monitors the status and exact location of each vehicle in real-time. It can also be connected to wearables, line-side pushbuttons, sensors and a WMS (Warehouse Management System) for automatic dispatching and order functions. Routes are easily modified by simply drawing a different path on a user interface and sending it to the vehicles.  To expand the system into other parts of the facility, users map the new area with one of the vehicles and add the desired path.

The vehicle travels up to 4 MPH and performs precise reversing maneuvers to accommodate automatic trailer hitching and unhitching functions, loads up to 10,000 pounds seamlessly with no magnetic tape or RFID tags required, making installation and modifications more flexible and at a lower cost.

Other standard features include opportunity charging to keep the vehicles running 24/7, and a color touchscreen monitor for operator interface.


Made in the USA and Ready to Deliver

One of the lean principles is deeply challenged among some of the leading contenders in the AGV mobile robot space. Few are “Made in the USA” and few maintain rapid delivery models, causing customers delivery time of vehicles from 90 to 180 days. The lost productivity and throughput data will fall short if the product cannot be delivered in a timely manner, 30 days maximum, and will also delay the ROI realization.


About the Author


Rob Sullivan, AutoGuide Mobile Robots’ ( President and CEO is a  robotics and automation leader with a track record of pioneering products. With over thirty years of career advancement in high technology companies ranging from burgeoning start-ups to established multinational corporations, he holds forty-six patents pertaining to robotics and automation utilized in manufacturing, distribution, and logistics. Sullivan can be reached at  

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