VLM increases productivity and traceability for Kinova

  • Business : Kinova
  • Location : Boisbriand, QC
  • Industry : Manufacturier


About Kinova

Kinova is a leading robotics company founded in 2006. The firm began by focusing on assistive equipment for people with disabilities. Today, it employs over 250 people in Canada and Germany. Kinova operates in four distinctive markets: assistive robotics, surgical robotics, research and academic robotics, and, from 2022, industrial robotics.


The initial situation

Prior to the implementation of the Vertical Lift Modules (VLM), Kinova managed a parts warehouse equipped with conventional shelving and plastic bins to store inventory. This warehouse occupied some 2,000 square feet. Parts varied in type, from hardware to electronic components, carbon and aluminum materials, lenses, sensors and buttons. The fragility and high value of some parts required specialized bins to prevent electrostatic discharge. This type of storage also posed some challenges in terms of traceability. In addition, four employees assigned to warehouse management prepared sets of parts for assembly on the production line.


The challenge

A robot consists of around 200 unique parts. These are complex components requiring controlled access and proper location. With the company's rapid growth, the number of different parts continued to increase, putting the available storage space at risk. It became difficult to keep all parts in the same place, some being stored in two different locations. Searching for parts proved time-consuming, just as managing traceability had become a tedious manual operation. In addition, inventory was often unbalanced, creating tracking problems.

As a manufacturer of surgical robots, Kinova must comply with ISO13485 certification. The goal is to be able accurately identify the raw material at the root of a problem several years from now. This traceability process can be lengthy and imprecise when carried out manually.


The solution

To solve these problems, Kinova set out in 2018 to find new storage solutions. Having a limited surface area, but a building with considerable vertical space, managers analyzed several options. Initially, a vertical carousel was considered, but its speed didn't match the company's needs, and it didn't allow for simultaneous entry and exit.

At that time, Vertical Lift Modules (VLM) were still new. The company considered a number of systems, such as stacked double-tray units, but none of them allowed simultaneous entry and exit of parts. Kinova discovered ICAM's SILO2, which offered two completely independent windows for simultaneous actions.

A 24-foot-high unit with 160 trays was installed, providing storage capacity for almost 1300 SKUs. The VLM SILO2 proved particularly suitable for fragile parts, as it is grounded, preventing electrostatic discharges and avoiding the use of antistatic plastic bins. Since some parts need to be kept clean during storage, SILO2 is ideal, as it offers a system that maintains positive air pressure to keep dust and contaminants out. SILO2's reconfigurable trays also allow the unit to be re-oraganized over time, by adding or removing separators. A unique feature of the SILO2 VLM is its bi-directional integration with Kinova's ERP system, improving traceability and overall business efficiency. It is estimated that the VLM SILO2 is equivalent to a parts warehouse with shelves measuring between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet.


The technical support

For MSK, after-sales service is just as important as installation. "MSK have dedicated people in various fields of expertise to help us integrate the VLM and answer any questions we may have about the machine's implementation. MSK takes care of everything, including machine maintenance. So, as a preventive measure, they come on an annual or biannual basis to carry out the various maintenance operations required to keep the machine running smoothly", explains Ian Coupal, Logistics and Planning Manager at Kinova.

Ian Coupal continues: "The machine is very reliable, and we've had very few problems. Most have been software problems, which MSK have resolved remotely. They set up a phone line to meet our emergency needs, if necessary. When we've had to use it, MSK have answered the call very quickly, and then they've been out and about within a few hours to get the machine up and running again, so we've limited downtime and been able to resume production quickly."


Final situation

The implementation of the SILO2 VLM has brought significant improvements to Kinova's warehouse. The approximately 250 sq. ft. unit, about 10 times smaller than its previous warehouse, covers twice as many products.

Kinova reports four major benefits from integrating the VLM into its production:

  • Speed

The Kinova team has noticed a big difference in speed, in terms of preparing a set of parts, between products whose parts are stored in the VLMs and those whose parts are not yet there.

  • Inventory accuracy

Previously, the company encountered a number of errors that forced its employees to do an inventory count every year, a time-consuming and costly operation. The VLM eliminates the need to take inventory for the parts stored on it.

  • Traceability

Thanks to the VLM's bi-directional integration with its ERP, Kinova can meet ISO13485 requirements.

  • Floor space

For Kinova, the VLM represents 10 times more floor space than its previous store.


In fact, the gains are so significant for the company that, to keep pace with its continued growth, Kinova plans to expand its warehouse and install one or two more SILO2 VLMs.


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