Lean manufacturing with flexible automation: GE case study

OTTO Motors

At GE Healthcare’s 280,000 square foot Repair Operations Center in Milwaukee, a fleet of OTTO autonomous mobile robots are used to deliver parts to workstation cells to handle over 2,000 repairs of medical devices weekly. The facility is a mega-center for medical equipment repairs that allowed operations to consolidate under one roof for faster, more efficient workflow. Upholding lean manufacturing principles, GE Healthcare is laser-focused on their mission: to provide customers with reliable, consistent, fast and quality repairs so that hospitals can restore operations quickly and focus on providing the best patient care. For this reason, efficiency must be at the core of all operations.

From manual material transport to flexible automation

Before operations were consolidated to one center and automation was introduced, moving parts throughout the facility was a very manual process. Repair center technicians were required to leave their station to manually push carts between cells, as well as to and from shipping and receiving areas. The time taken for finished repairs to reach shipping was dependent on the types of equipment that were needed for repair, which often led to delays. Additionally, technicians’ workflow would be interrupted as they were the ones to move materials, and facilities often suffered from wasted floor space due to the need to leave room for bulky carts and fixed infrastructure in the aisleways. The simple act of leaving space for these push carts meant that the repair center could accommodate a limited number of repair cells in their facility, and therefore, achieve a limited throughput. GE Healthcare knew they needed a more productive material handling solution that fit the demands of their team - something that entailed flexible automation so they could integrate and scale the technology within the new mega center.

“We needed to find an on-demand solution for moving materials throughout the facility,” said Patricio Espinosa, Director, Americas Repair Operations, GE Healthcare. “OTTO is a perfect solution because it gets materials where they need to be, when they need to be there.”

Lean manufacturing in action: 66% increase in floorspace

The OTTO autonomous mobile robots were integrated to improve material flow and find new efficiencies in the repair process. Today, the OTTO vehicles are used to deliver parts for over 2,000 medical equipment repairs per week. OTTO delivers repairs to their destinations in an optimized workflow:

  • When a technician is finished with repairing a part, they call an OTTO autonomous mobile robot.
  • OTTO brings a new part to be repaired, and takes the finished part to shipping.

Because of the flexible automation that was implemented, GE Healthcare has reduced the size of its repair cell stations at the Repair Operations Center by 40%. OTTO is also able to take on multiple jobs within the plant; the same vehicle can be used in different applications across the facility, from supplying parts to repair cells and moving finished goods to shipping zones. This multi-functional capability has led to a 66% increase in productive floor space.

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