Michael Cheung
Austin Joe
Mike van Abbema

Dr. Eric Manning


Automated warehouse and fabrication

In this application, a warehouse, fabrication and assembly facility is fully automated. Mobile machines on the factory floor fetch inventory from the warehouse as needed and supply this inventory to fabrication and assembly machines. After assembly, completed items are quality-controlled and are either routed into inventory or to shipping. All of these procedures are automated with minimal human supervision.

Companies in Japan utilize systems like this for different tasks. The machines (robotic machines, assembly stations, automated forklifts and conveyor systems, etc.) in this system all require a real-time OS to function, however, in order to properly operate each device must be very carefully programmed to interoperate with each other with virtually no room for error. If in the assembly chain any one unit experienced a fault, obstruction or collision all other units would be halted waiting for the one conflicting unit to complete its expected task.

What we observed was that there was no ‘real-time’ communications between these various systems. They had no way of determining the position or status of each other. To avoid conflicts, such as colliding into each other or attempting to manufacture an item without a complete set of materials, each machine was painstakingly programmed based on detailed timing specifications. This programming is very time-consuming, tedious and highly prone to error.

To improve this system without affecting the ‘real-time’ aspect of each device, a method is required for each unit to operate fully independent from each other. To do this, an effective means of communication between each unit can be implemented such that the real-time operation of each system is unaffected.

These are a few of many potential applications:

  • Automated warehouse, assembly and fabrication
  • Complex remote, automatic vehicles, such as miniature automated submersible vehicles
  • Each unit requires a real-time system for its control surfaces, another for navigation and task performance, and for communication with a remote monitoring station. Automated helicopters, for example, require a very complex control system and interface to function properly
  • If multiple units operate together in a confined environment such as underwater welding on a complex structure, aerial surveillance, or search and rescue operations they need a way to communicate with each other automatically such that their efforts do not interfere with each other (with minimal human intervention). Miniaturized flying devices already exist for purposes such as searching unsafe buildings during a fire or after an earthquake, police/military use, surveillance, etc.

Updated: July 27, 2004