AN €800,000 research and development programme to develop a smart assembly line of the future is being undertaken by Kostal, the Abbeyfeale-based manufacturer of automotive electronic systems in association with Lero, the Irish Software SFI Research Centre at the University of Limerick.
The programme will draw on Lero’s research in autonomous and adaptive software systems which learn automatically how to respond to their environment. It will develop autonomous systems for Kostal’s power electronic products for electric vehicles at its plant on the Abbeyfeale Industrial Estate where it employs more than 600 people.
Lero partner IT Tralee will lead the two-year programme working with the University of Limerick. Funding for the research is being backed by Science Foundation Ireland.
Lero researcher at IT Tralee Dr Joseph Walsh, who is heading the programme, said there was a common misconception that Ireland, because of its high-cost base, cannot be a manufacturing centre. However, the development of increased automation technologies such as this Kostal programme can drive the creation of more profitable and efficient manufacturing in Ireland.
This is also the view of Kostal Assembly and Test Manager Kieran O’Donoghue who explained that although automated assembly and robotics already exist, the goal is to develop a more flexible spoke system implementing Autonomous Intelligent Vehicles (AIVs) to be known as KostalRovers.
“These will provide the flexibility to independently distribute work across lines to better manage volume fluctuations and multiple products compared to the traditional fixed linear production line”.
Lero researcher at UL, Dr Thomas Newe said that a primary focus would be to meet the challenges associated with the safe navigation and control of more than 20 autonomous Intelligent Vehicles on a single manufacturing floor.
To achieve this the research will include the sourcing and development of cost-effective mobile autonomous adaptive systems capable of remote, robotic and autonomous operations. The second strand of research will include advanced data analytics, machine learning and scheduling using data from an array of sensors with a view to performing multi-modal predictions for the AIVs.
This is the third major announcement this year by Lero on research into autonomous systems.
In January Lero researchers at IT Tralee announced a €2 million programme with Dairymaster to develop autonomous systems to ease the workload on the dairy farm.
A month later Lero researchers at NUI Galway announced a driverless cars programme with Valeo to help autonomous vehicles to better navigate in complex, real-world conditions using sensor signal processing technology.