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Automation rules at MODEX


Wednesday, 18 Apr 2018 ( #868 ) - Atlanta, GA, United States
News Story
MODEX 2018 sets new records
By Allan Leibowitz

Organisers are describing last week’s MODEX gathering as the most successful to date, with attendance expected to hit 30,000 when the tally is complete.

MHI CEO George W. Prest says the fourth edition of the Atlanta show expanded to around 280,000 sqft. (26,000 sqm) and over 900 exhibits.

The numbers, however, only tell half the story and Prest says he was struck by the energy at the event.

George W. Prest
The biggest change over the four editions, he says, is the technology on show. "We’re in a really exciting time in the industry, driven by a strong economy worldwide, and you can just feel it on the floor."

The hot topic at MODEX 2018 was workforce, according to Prest, who said many of his conversations centred around the skills shortages in the logistics and materials handling sectors.

Meanwhile, technology was the dominant issue in the 2018 MHI Annual Industry Report released at the show.

The report identified the following trends:
• The rise of robotics and automation
• Increased use of predictive analytics
• The use of sensors as part of the Internet of Things (IoT)
• Application of artificial intelligence
• Increasing adoption of driverless vehicles and drones

These trends were evident among the exhibitors, with a record number of AGVs (automatic guided vehicles) on show – both by specialist manufacturers and mainstream players.

Among those championing driverless forklifts was industry pioneer Seegrid, which was celebrating 1 million production miles (1.6 million km) at customer sites without a single personnel safety incident.

Jeff Christensen, Seegrid VP of product, says AGVs have become mainstream because "the technology works reliably enough to use in legitimate product".

"It’s not a fringe technology any more. There is more mainstream understanding of what the technology can do and the economic value proposition and there is also some pressure on the demand side as the number of SKUs and the speed with which you need to get them out the door are growing exponentially," he adds.

AGV Solutions found strong interest in its products during MODEX, with president Mats Herrstromer noting growing demand from the manufacturing sector. At the same, he is also witnessing growing use of AGVs in distribution, where traditional forklifts are being replaced by automated solutions.

"It’s hard to find reliable forklift drivers and replacing that with automation that allows 24/7 operation is kind of exciting," he says.

Rather than fitting control units to existing forklifts, AGV Solutions builds its own units entirely. "We have found that with the precision you need on an AGV, it is easier to design one for ourselves that we build from scratch."

MODEX was AGV Solutions’ first public showing since its recent acquisition by Japanese industrial giant Murata Machinery.

Oceaneering was at MODEX with a UniMover, a tunnelling vehicle that drives beneath a load, lifts it and transports it to a destination. While these vehicles may not have the reach and capacity of forklifts, they have greater manoeuvrability and smaller footprints.

Director Brian Spradlin also sees labour shortages as a major factor in the uptake of AGVs.

"Adoption can be ROI-driven, reducing costs, but it can also be safety-driven since AGVs have minimal accidents," he explains.

"Automation is a booming business, as you can see (from the large number of exhibitors) here and we do see a movement by traditional forklift suppliers into the automated market," he says, adding that although competition is increasing, so is opportunity as the market expands.

St. Augustine, Florida-based Amerden AGVs was on hand to discuss its range of standard and custom AGV models, including a new version to handle box loads, as opposed to pallets. Also on show as the new Amerden-Transport Order System, a touchscreen-based system used to call and dispatch AGVs from specific production and storage locations as well as tracking all loads.  

As AGVs mature, Amerden has also found a market for retrofitting control units, according to founder Roland Anderson, who says: "We retrofit AGVs with new controls and let them run seamlessly in the old system. When all vehicles have been retrofitted a new AGV System Manager, AGVSM is introduced.  This way there is no production loss, vehicles are proven and cost can be spread out, instead of using a large capital investment".

Among the traditional forklift companies showing AGV solutions was Hyster, which demonstrated the lift trucks "drive by Balyo".

Steen LaFevers, vice president, motive power and telematics, showed Forkliftaction News a robotic tugger and a counterbalance stacker, "both of which are able to be infinitely programmed". This equipment, he says, allows companies to deploy drivers to tasks where they can add more value but it retains the ability to be used manually.

Hyster argues that in a typical US warehouse, labour can consume as much as 50-70% of a company’s budget, the average annual turnover rate is 36% and the cost to find and train new hires can reach as much as twice an employee’s salary. These factors contribute to the ROI of automation.

Automation also featured at the KION stand, where the automated iGo neo CX20 order picker was in action. "This is where the standard truck meets the automation world," says
president and CEO Vincent Halma. The Dematic iGo Neo (branded as a STILL product in Europe) is the first dual-use automated guided vehicle for manual and automated picking. It combines a traditional driver vehicle with AGV capabilities for efficient, ergonomic and economical mixed-case picking.

Halma adds that innovation is increasingly important for manufacturers and he says this will be evident in future roll-outs, especially after KION’s acquisition of Dematic.

Separately, Dematic showed its Compact Tugger AGV. Designed from the ground up to be a smaller, lower-cost option to full-sized AGVs, the Compact Tugger provides efficient transport in tight spaces.

While Toyota was not at MODEX, its Bastian Solutions division was there to show new technologies including robotic truck loading and unloading and its Tugger AGV.

The AGV was deployed in a live demonstration, using natural features from the surrounding area for navigation. The vehicles can be cable-guided, laser-guided, embedded item-guided, or vision-guided. Safety is assured by the use of ultrasonic sensors in addition to acoustic and visual indicators, emergency stop buttons on all four sides of the vehicle and contact bumpers surrounding the perimeter of the vehicle.

Sister company Raymond showed off its autonomous solution, the Radioshuttle, also known as a pallet runner. The storage and retrieval system allows for a maximum use of warehouse space. Easily managed with a remote control, the Radioshuttle pallet shuttle is loaded into storage loads and executes orders to load or unload pallets into a lane. The lanes are fed pallets by forklifts such as reach trucks or sit down forklifts. Similar systems were shown by Knapp and Honeywell Intelligrated.

Charlotte, North Carolina-based Transbotics used MODEX to show off its new distribution agreement with Rocla to provide an expanded product offering. In addition to Transbotics’ standard, modular and custom designs, this will give end-users more standard forklift AGVs to choose from for a larger variety of applications, with the benefit of lower costs and quicker return-on-investments. The collaboration will specifically benefit warehousing applications with a very narrow aisle high-lift vehicle, industries that would need clamp vehicles, and manufacturing applications with Rocla’s various forklift models.

Transbotics and Rocla use the same controls technology which allows for both companies’ AGVs to be used in the same system and to have similar support.

Telematics and data

Automation was also a significant feature at the booths of developers like Sick, where a number of navigation systems were on display. These ranged from magnetic strips to printed codes, all designed to guide autonomous vehicles safely and accurately. Marketing manager John Ashodian stresses the huge opportunities arising from the vast quantities of data currently available in materials handling, especially data captured by various Sick sensors.

"Taking that information that we used to just spit to a controller or a device, we can now address new needs by doing something valuable with it," he says.

I.D. Systems of New Jersey used MODEX to highlight its integration with Keytroller, according to vice president of marketing Barry Issberner. He sees real opportunities through combining Keytroller’s new entry-level 106 telematics platform with I.D. Systems’ analytics systems.

Issberner is seeing a strong focus on productivity. "Our analytics system will tell them what is the percentage of their fleet that is essentially not being fully utilised and exactly which vehicles at which times of the day and in what location. So, if they can redeploy those vehicles, they can increase operations without additional capital outlay," he explains.

Innovation awards

This year’s MODEX show also saw the presentation of the 2018 MHI Innovation Awards. The winners were
Best new product: The Raymond Corp. for Raymond Virtual Reality Simulator.
Best innovation of an existing product: ELOKON GmbH for the ELOshield proximity detection system.
Best IT innovation: Yard Management Solutions for Eagle Eye Yard Management Software.
Meanwhile, James (Jim) J. Radous III, president of UniCarriers Americas Corporation (UCA), received the MHI 2018 Mentor Award in recognition of his professional guidance, positivity and inspiration, talent nurturing and support of professional development.

Next week: Who was there and what was new. In the meanwhile, check out some of our images from the show here.
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