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Agile AI to improve robotic solution for towel folding

By 22 December 2021January 4th, 2022No Comments



Industry 4.0 has given companies the opportunity to enhance their supply chain management including through the use of robotics and artificial intelligence. When a manufacturer is faced with a bottleneck in their production, ARM Hub unlocks research to find innovative solutions using digital capabilities that may not have been around when the original process was created. Consolidated Linen Services (CLS) partnered with ARM Hub to address an area of the system that no business had previously offered a solution for. They create system for high volume towel folding utilising both robotics and agile AI.

The unfolding task is one of the last manual operations left within the laundry facility; a repetitive job in a hot, humid environment, where workers have to take regular hydration breaks.

The projects machine learning that can be captured through lean data to minimise the amount of tests and trials needed to be done to redesign the product or process. Redesigning the time-to-market to achieve maximum quality at minimum cost, allowing for SMEs to keep a competitive edge against larger counterparts.

CLS was established in 1990, by the Roberts family, who still actively work within the business today. Their company provides linen and garment rental and laundry services. With state-of-the-art facilities featuring innovative and automated systems and processes, CLS offers customers quality, long-term and cost effective service solutions.

The company had an underlying issue in their manufacturing processes that required additional hands on employees to conduct repetitive and mundane work in high temperature conditions. The initial brief discussed with ARM Hub robotics and AI experts was to improve the feeding of towels into the folding machine. The machine had not yet been automated because the existing equipment did not meet client expectations.

The project started with an initial assessment of two of CLS branches. Testing potential solutions of the unfolding problem at ARM Hub with the robotics technologies, while identifying the issues in the current commercial solution that lead to the towel folding being unsatisfactory. After the results from the initial assessment were confirmed, AI and robotics experts developed a prototype robotic unfolder that demonstrated the possibility to automate this process.

Based on the performance of the prototype, the team led by ARM Hub engineer David Hedger, provided three potential ways to solve the problem and was able to identify which option would provide the greatest throughput and benefit to the business.

Once feasibility was clear, ARM Hub was able to expand on the technology application to develop a closed loop system that could remove the bottleneck and optimise the entire task.

The next stage of production will require all the components integrated into a baseline system. From here, ARM Hub will be able to focus on the client’s priority of higher throughput which will involve adding extra useful hardware and sensors to minimise the time at the singulation and flattening components.

This robotic system will allow CLS to fully automate their laundry workflow. With the fully automated laundry, CLS will be able to allocate their workers to more problem solving and business-oriented tasks, increasing their overall efficiency.
ARM Hub has allowed CLS to enhance their digital capabilities and provide advanced manufacturing opportunities through the use of computer vision, collaborative robotics, coordinated motion, sensor fusion, rapid hardware prototyping and software development.