One of the key trends in materials handling, the rise of automation, was plainly evident at LogiMAT in Stuttgart, not just in the four halls (out of 10) devoted to shuttle and conveyor systems, robots and AGVs, but even among the “traditional” manufacturers.
Visitors were able to see a huge array of automated handling solutions from established players, new entrants and niche suppliers of hardware, software, control systems, sensing devices and fleet management programmers.
The 80-plus robotics suppliers just in Hall 2 included Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) provider Locus Robotics, which used LogiMAT to announce an expansion of its range of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) with new form factors to augment the Locus Origin robot.
“We’re looking to empower horizontal automation in the same space, with the same user experience, under one harmonised platform with the same interface, allowing for interoperability with different form factors,” says Denis Niezgoda, vice president, Europe.
The LocusBots are fully integrated within LocusOne, Locus’ intelligent, multi-bot warehouse orchestration platform, and allow for an extended range of warehouse activities.
Relative newcomer Moffett Automated Storage, co-founded by Sam Moffett, the son of the co-founder of Combilift and truck-mounted forklift pioneer, Robert Moffett, gave many visitors their first exposure to the multi-directional Moffett AS/R Taxi System, an auto storage retrieval system for pallets.
The shuttle ‘taxis’ can lift 1.5 T each and can be used in racking up to 40 m high.
Moffett says the mobility of the robots ensures that if one ever breaks down, it only blocks access to one or two pallets, but the rest of the storage is still accessible to the robots in the system.
The solution is data-based and even repairs can mostly be done remotely, regardless of where the site is located.
According to Peter Ossendorf, DACH sales manager at Oceaneering, the company is receiving significant interest in its omni-drive Apollo AGV, which has found strong acceptance for hospital application.
One of the boxes ticked by Oceaneering’s offerings, especially since the adoption of the BlueBotics navigation system, is the ability for end-users to easily change routes themselves – something Ossendorf says had been a common customer request over his 30 years in the industry.
Gideon, which was recently selected by DB Schenker for the automation of its Leipzig facility, showed off its Trey autonomous forklift which augments its traditional autonomous mobile pallet handling robots.
Dario Ljubic says Gideon’s unique ‘vision’ navigation system sets it apart in the market. “The AI we use allows us to learn new kinds of pallets – it’s not hard-coded, but instead the robot learns the way humans do. We collect data from different environments and different positions, with obstructions in the way, and with all that data, (the robots) can recognise a range of pallets in different situations,” he explains.
Caja Robotics advisor Chris Baur demonstrated his company’s approach of easy implementation and scalability with its Bumblebee and Optimus solutions. The goods-to-person solutions are powered by “best-for-the-task positioning technology: 2D code systems, odometry, inertial navigation measurements through the IMU 6 axis, SLAM (Simultaneous localisation and mapping), and LiDAR (Light detection and ranging)”. The Optimus, which collects goods from racks, is being extended to cope with loads stored up to 5 m high.
Germany’s ek robotics used LogiMAT to announce a partnership with Canada’s Otto, a leading AMR developer.
"Our claim is to always be able to offer our customers the most powerful, safest and most reliable solution," says Andreas Böttner, CEO of ek robotics.
The alliance with Otto allows ek robotics to extend its offering beyond AGVs to service customers with different needs.
"AMR technology has developed rapidly in recent years and, above all, to a level that is now suitable for industrial use, which is why we are now expanding our range of services to include this technology."
The new collaboration aims to increase the global reach of both companies as they aim for the combined AGV and AMR market predicted to be worth USD18 billion by 2027.
Seer Intelligent Technology Corp was one of the few Chinese manufacturers to make it to LogiMAT due to government restrictions at home, and it showed both its robots and its controllers which are available to third parties. Overseas business director Keith Li explains that his company is trying to broaden the AMR market by making its controllers and software available to other manufacturers and integrators. “To grow the market, we supply AMRs, but we would also like to empower the rest of the industry to build their own AMRs,” he says.
Li says Seer prides itself on its transparency. “When we sell anything, we share the API because we are looking for capable integrators who can build their knowledge of how to implement AMRs,” he adds.
Youibot, another Chinese supplier, had two products on show – an inventory management robot and intralogistics mobile robots.
A spokesman says Youibot’s technology is based on SLAM navigation which, when combined with its unique algorithms, provide extraordinary levels of accuracy.
Another advantage is the robust robot construction which assures end-users of a 20-year service life. Support in Europe is mostly delivered via local integrators, he adds.
Steffen Bersch, CEO of SSI Schaefer, whose company, subsidiaries and partners showcased a wide range of solutions, sees a need for more standardisation and modulisation to cope with increased demand for logistics technology at a time of constrained supply capacity. He says the automation market is growing by around 7% per annum and his company is performing better than the trend in both orders and sales. Market disruptions have forced SSI Schaefer to be very flexible in the execution of projects and to maintain good relations with suppliers, sub-suppliers and customers, he adds.
“There are a lot of great ideas and innovation in the automation market at the moment, with many new suppliers, but the advantage of Schaefer is that because of our position and internal process, we have the experience in the market to deliver very reliable solutions,” Bersch adds. “However, we are always looking for new technology that we can bring in,” he says, noting there are many start-ups with good solutions that Schaefer can reliably integrate into its offerings.
Tobias Zimmermann, head of application engineering, new technologies, at Sick Sensor Technologies, explains that his company’s focus has shifted from sensing and measurement to intelligent data.
Solutions on show at LogiMAT included the IFOY Award-nominated PACS pallet classification system. Sick also showed several solutions for AGVs, including sensors ‘to make vehicles safe as well as intelligent”.
Automation was a prominent theme on the giant Jungheinrich stand, where the new PowerCube shuttle system was unveiled.
PowerCube is an automated compact container warehouse for space-saving storage and order picking of small parts and general cargo.
The containers are stacked on top of each other in a modular racking system in vertical channels up to 12 m high. The containers are stored and retrieved by newly developed CSC shuttles that move underneath the racking system at a speed of up to 4 m/s. The shuttles are equipped with a special safety system.
The German materials handling company also showed some of the fruits of its acquisitions and industry collaborations. These included the arculee autonomous mobile robot (AMR) from arculus, the Soto robot from partner Magazino, as well as the EKS 215a automated guided vehicle nominated for the IFOY Award.
Mitsubishi Logisnext also combined traditional machines and automation on a stand dubbed “the best of both worlds”. Vice president sales and marketing Oskari Lindstedt says the future will not be separate forklift and automation approaches, but rather mixed fleets. “Human operators are excellent at making fast decisions and reacting quickly, but automation works best when processes are constant and repetitive. Automation is not yet capable of fast reactions in unpredictable situations. The mixed fleet approach optimises certain process through automation and maintains others as manual,” he says, adding that the company’s fleet management solutions ensure that all the elements work together effectively.
France’s Manitou showed its Effidence range of robots, characterised by some recharging innovations including IN2POWER’s compact induction-based automatic wireless recharging solution.
At the Geek+ stand, visitors could see the latest autonomous mobile robot solutions, the revolutionary PopPick and RoboShuttle 8, in action.
PopPick consists of fleets of autonomous robots which fetch goods from storage racks and bring them to warehouse personnel at a central picking station. The RoboShuttle 8, meanwhile, is touted as the tallest AMR on the market, capable of reaching over 8 meters in height.
Idealworks showed off its Pallet Dock and Pallet Extension. The Pallet Dock is a handling station which combines with Pallet Extension as an attachment for the iw.hub, enabling the AMR to independently pick up and deliver pallets and pallet cages, without the need for dollies. The docking stations, which are just over a meter wide, 1.6 meters long, and only about 30 cm high, are delivered to their respective areas of application in one piece and only need to be firmly attached to the floor before they are being used for the first time.
Rather than displaying its solutions which are well known in the market, Dematic showed a couple of service innovations. One was the Dematic Drone Inspection Service, which uses a drone to inspect high racking installations.
Dematic says the system cuts inspection times by two-thirds compared to manual inspections, requires few people to perform the tasks, and reduces the risk of accidents.
Dematic also showed its virtual reality support option which allows customers to walk through maintenance tasks under the guidance of remote technicians.
With so many solutions available to customers, the decision is less about whether to automate and more about how to do it, and importantly, how to choose the right approach and to integrate disparate elements.
Autonomous navigation developer BlueBotics, which was recently acquired by ZAPI Group, used LogiMAT to promote its new ANTdriven.com web resource for comparing automated vehicle technologies across the ANT (autonomous navigation technology) navigation ecosystem.
“Different brand vehicles are often closed systems and cannot work together,” warns BlueBotics CEO Nicola Tomatis.
“Much of the time, a buyer’s first dilemma is simply where to start. In the case of automating transport processes with vehicles like AGVs, automated forklifts and AMRs, first it is important to learn about these technologies and how they work. Then, there is the challenge of drawing up a shortlist of potential purchases that are proven to perform accurately and reliably, and which can scale into a larger connected fleet should a company’s needs evolve. Finally, there is the business case to make, which requires solid financial projections based on usable real-world data.”
Olga Štaka, marketing assistant with NAiSE, notes that with rising material flows, companies are increasingly purchasing forklifts and AGVs or AMRs from different manufacturers. “This mismatch creates a variety of accidents that lead to increased costs, injuries, and sometimes the destruction of intralogistics components,” she says, arguing that the NAiSE Traffic system can combine the disparate elements into a single management unit. “The demand for our NAiSE Traffic system is growing, as companies are looking for a solution that will allow them to solve dozens of problems and difficulties with a single system,” she says.
Ralf Duester, co-founder and director at Setlog, notes that instead of forklift fleets, more and more companies are relying on fleets of autonomous mobile robots that are flexible and easily scalable. “This market has enormous growth potential,” he notes.
- Next week: Power options for traditional machines. Also see our gallery here.