Woven in Ingenuity
Mechatronics students help Mohawk Industries refine carpet automation
MARIETTA, Ga. (Jan 12, 2017) — A new partnership between Kennesaw State and Mohawk Industries, the world’s largest flooring manufacturer, has given engineering students an opportunity to improve the company’s automation processes.
Last spring, Mohawk executives reached out to KSU’s Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology for help in improving their assembly-line operation of creating carpet sample boards, which are used to showcase different carpet collections at thousands of retailers.
For Mohawk, the issue was ensuring all carpet swatches were mounted to the sample boards with the pile facing in the same direction, making it easier for consumers to accurately compare color options.
Matt Marshall, assistant professor of mechatronics engineering, gathered four mechatronics engineering students to begin the 15-week directed-studies project. Marshall worked with the Mohawk team to align their project with the college’s academic program while fulfilling the company’s need to enhance their automation and improve the consumer shopping experience.
“Process improvement and innovation have always been part of our business model, and for years we’ve taken steps to refine our processes to drive efficiency, reduce waste and deliver a better product for our customers,” said Chris Behrends, vice president of supply chain at Mohawk Industries. “It’s about continuous improvement and doing everything in a better way. And now, with the advancements in technology and skill levels of the next generation of engineers, we are excited about the opportunities to take our process improvement to a higher level.”
The students – Johnny Canazon, Cameron Clevinger, Flavio De Paula and Matt Hensley – were tasked with developing an automatic way to detect carpet pile direction. They hoped to reduce errors and speed production.
To understand Mohawk’s entire manufacturing process, the students visited the sample production site to visually observe the steps leading up to and after the assembly line. Mohawk’s variable production schedule, number of employees and changeovers on the assembly line were also considerations for the team in designing their solutions.
“Our goal was to improve the sample board assembly process,” said Hensley, a senior who graduated in December. “We needed to ensure that all of the carpet samples were going in the same direction, and we needed to create a process to do that autonomously.”
The students developed two integrated approaches to the already existing assembly line. One prototype was a small device that hovers over the carpet sample and electromechanically detects direction of the pile with a quick rotational sweep. A secondary device used imaging to detect carpet pile direction. With five cameras, this visual system is able to determine the lay of carpet based on visual cues and extensive system data. Bottlenecks in production also slowed the process, so the students developed a more efficient carousel for even distribution of the swatches to the assembly line.
“The visual and mechanical solutions, when combined, get a better result,” said Canazon. Currently, Mohawk’s manufacturing has human and automated lines, but the students’ focus was on improving the automated line for speed and accuracy. With 1,000 carpet swatches in hand, the students tested each of their prototypes in the lab.
“This has to be one of the most complex programming projects that I have ever done,” said Clevinger, who worked predominantly on the visual technology.
In December, the mechatronics engineering students presented Mohawk engineers with an animated 3D simulation of their design to show its realistic measures.
“This partnership provides an example to model future collaborations with industry in a way that is relevant and mutually beneficial,” said Charles Ross, KSU’s vice president for economic development and community engagement.
“The university and the college have leveraged this partnership to provide our students an experiential learning experience that reinforces what they are learning in the classroom, and exposes a Fortune 500 industry leader to the faculty and student talent at Kennesaw State.”
About Mohawk Industries:
Mohawk, headquartered in Calhoun, Ga., is a $9 billion global flooring company with operations in 15 countries. The company is a leading supplier of residential and commercial carpet, rugs, ceramic tile, laminate, hard wood, sheet vinyl and luxury vinyl tile.
- Tiffany Capuano; photos by David Caselli
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.