At Whirlpool Corporation’s 2.4-million-square-foot plant in Clyde, Ohio, a fleet of 54 blue robotic tuggers wind their way around the floor, automatically delivering parts every 20 to 30 minutes to some 24 drop-off locations on the assembly and sub-assembly lines.
Operating in a three-shift, five-day-a-week operating environment, the mobile robots are a key component in the lean and continuous improvement philosophy in Clyde—billed as the world’s largest plant manufacturing top- and front-load washing machines. They are also an illustration of the company’s “smart automation” strategy, explains Jim Keppler, vice president of integrated supply chain and quality for the Benton Harbor, Mich., appliance manufacturer. “As a company, we’ve challenged our manufacturing plants to look for opportunities to implement smart automation,” Keppler says. “There is always a labor savings associated with automation, but we are also looking for smart ways to improve safety, quality and speed.”