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Ford Accomplishes Lights-out Manufacturing with Javier, an Autonomous Robot

Javier is an up-and-coming employee that tends to the 3D printers at Ford's Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan. He's always on time and can work around the clock with limited breaks to recharge his batteries. 

Javier is an autonomous mobile robot, specifically a KUKA robot on wheels. Named by Ford's additive manufacturing operators, the mobile robot autonomously operates 3D Carbon printers without any human interaction. 

Ford has filed several patents over the technology, which, unlike traditional stationary robots that tend a lone machine, can service multiple. 

According to Jason Ryska, director of global manufacturing technology development at Ford, Javier is going to change the way the carmaker uses robotics in its manufacturing facilities. The robot will not only scale 3D printing operations but the technology will be moved into other parts of the manufacturing and assembly processes. 

Ford is learning from the robot; improving accuracy by using Javier's feedback to reduce errors. Ford has filed several patents regarding the robot's communication interfaces and positioning. For example, Javier doesn't need a camera vision system to see.

Typically, equipment from different suppliers can't interact because they don't run the same interface. However, Ford created a program that allows equipment to "speak the same language." So, the Carbon 3D printer tells Javier when the printed product will be finished, and he lets the printer know when he has arrived and is ready for pick-up.  

Javier allows Ford to achieve true lights out additive manufacturing, and the efficiency has begun to reduce the cost of custom-printed products. While the process is autonomous, Ford operators still upload 3D designs to the printer and maintain the machinery, for now anyway. 

According to Research and Markets, the Autonomous Mobile Robot market was valued at $1.6 billion in 2021. It could eclipse $22 billion by 2030.

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