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Kostal and Lero researchers at IT Tralee and UL announce €800,000 R&D programme to develop autonomous robots for assembly line of the future

Jul 11, 2018

Kostal and Lero researchers at IT Tralee and UL announce €800,000 R&D programme to develop autonomous robots for assembly line of the future

Third major announcement by Lero on autonomous systems this year. Kostal, the Limerick based manufacturer of automotive electronic systems, has announced a major €800,000 R&D programme with Lero, the Irish Software SFI Research Centre to develop a smart assembly line of the future. 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.

The research will draw on Lero’s long-standing 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 in Abbeyfeale.

Kostal employs 900 people in Ireland at its two manufacturing plants in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick and Mallow, Co Cork.

“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,” commented Dr Joseph Walsh, Head of the School of STEM and Lero researcher at IT Tralee who is heading the programme.

“While automated assembly and robotics already exist, our 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,” commented Kieran O’Donoghue, Assembly and Test Manager, Kostal Ireland.

“A primary focus of this research will be to meet the challenges associated with the safe navigation and control of 20 plus Autonomous Intelligent Vehicles on a single manufacturing floor,” commented Dr Thomas Newe, Lero researcher at UL. “It will require adoption of the latest automation technologies such as Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT).”

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.

Speaking at the announcement Dr Oliver Murphy, President of IT Tralee said,

“For the past century, employment opportunities created by this progressive, family-owned business have been a great boost for Kerry and the south west region. For IT Tralee, this includes facilitating work placement students seeking hands-on industry experience and permanent employment for IT Tralee graduates. We are delighted to further this relationship with Kostal through this R&D programme and look forward to collaborating on innovative industry solutions.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland added, “Programmes such as this will boost the knowledge base in Ireland in the important area of flexible autonomous systems, which will ultimately bring economic benefit. Lero, the Irish Software SFI Research Centre combines the expertise in sensor research in IT Tralee and machine learning from the University of Limerick to address the needs of the autonomous systems community in Ireland.”

This is the third major announcement this year by Lero on research into autonomous systems. In February 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.

In January Lero researchers at IT Tralee announced a €2m R&D programme with Dairymaster to develop autonomous systems to ease workload on the dairy farm.

Lero and Kostel

Lero and Kostel 2