The future of operational efficiency and cost cutting in manufacturing lies in the automation of the production process. At General Electric (GE) and Caterpillar, it will involve adding self-driving vehicles into the factory workforce. The two have already invested in a University of Waterloo startup, Clearpath Robotics, which focuses on researching and developing robots that transport materials and pallets throughout the warehouse.

Unlike the typical forklift, these automobiles are fully autonomous and possess a wide range of capabilities. They are able to identify the location of packages at the stores as well as gauge their fuel levels and autonomously redirect themselves to a fueling station. According to Clearpath, these robots use the LiDAR (A detection system which works on the principle of radar) and other sensors, to map out their paths and avoid collisions across the factory floor.

Previous application
The concept of autonomous vehicles in manufacturing and assembly plants isn’t new to the industry. Several other global manufacturing and production giants like BMW, Amazon, and Dispatch are already using autonomous vehicles in their assembly warehouses.

BMW introduced the autonomous vehicle technology in their industry earlier in the year to help reduce clatter and increases productivity among workers. Amazon, on the other hand, has been using the autonomous vehicle robotics to pick up customer orders from their warehouses, deliver them for packaging before forwarding them to their distribution center.

Cost-benefit analyses
The saving benefits of the autonomous vehicles in assembly and manufacturing plants greatly exceeds the initial investment. For instance, after acquiring the robotics research center for $775 million from Kiva systems, Amazon saved $286 million last year alone from the exclusive use of these automobiles in their warehouses. BMW expects to save 5% of their annual labor costs. This translates to hundreds of millions of Euros. The combined $30 million dollar investment by GE and Caterpillar into Clearpath is bound to benefit them tenfold. With such levels of cost saving and efficiency, more manufacturers will incorporate the autonomous vehicle into their production thus reshaping the future of production and plant assembly.