Next-gen autonomous assembly line robots being developed at Irish centre

11 Jul 2018

From left: Dr Joseph Walsh, head of the School of STEM and Lero researcher at IT Tralee; and Kieran O’Donoghue, assembly and test manager, Kostal Ireland. Image: Domnick Walsh

The SFI software research centre Lero has revealed a new €800,000 R&D programme to develop the next generation of autonomous assembly line robots.

Limerick-based automotive electronics manufacturer Kostal has announced the signing of an €800,000 deal with the Science Foundation Ireland-funded software research centre Lero to develop an R&D programme for next-generation assembly line robots.

Lero’s academic partner in the region, IT Tralee, will lead the programme while working with the University of Limerick (UL), with the intention of creating autonomous systems for Kostal’s electronic products for electric vehicles at its plant in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick.

The research is expected to 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 multimodal predictions for the assembly line robots, which will be known as KostalRovers.

In addition to the Abbeyfeale plant, Kostal has a second manufacturing facility in Mallow, Co Cork, with a total number of 900 employees in Ireland.

Rise of the robots in the mid-west

The mid-west has become a major centre of autonomous and electric car development with the recent addition of Jaguar Land Rover bolstering demand for graduates in robotics, software and artificial intelligence (AI).

Speaking of the deal, Dr Joseph Walsh, who is leading the programme as a Lero researcher at IT Tralee, said: “There is a common misconception out there that Ireland, because of its high cost base, cannot be a manufacturing centre.

“The reality is that the development of increased automation technologies such as this Kostal programme can drive the creation of more profitable and efficient manufacturing in Ireland.”

A total of more than 20 KostalRovers are set to be deployed at the company’s assembly lines and, according to Lero, they will adopt the latest automation technologies, such as the internet of things (IoT).

Kieran O’Donoghue, assembly and test manager for Kostal Ireland, said: “[The KostalRovers] 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.”

Earlier this year, Lero signed a similar autonomous R&D programme worth €2m with Dairymaster to bring new IoT and AI technologies to agriculture.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic