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Supply chain automation may impact forklift industry

Thursday, 30 Sep 2010 ( #481 ) - San Diego, CA, United States
News Story
A wave of automation is coming into the supply chain with potentially significant impact on the forklift industry, according to Scott Friedman, chief executive officer of robotic forklift maker Seegrid Corp.

This wave "has many drivers", he says, ahead of the 26-29 September convention of the Council of Supply Change Management Professionals (CSCMP) in San Diego.

"The question is, will this be the end of lift trucks. . . or will lift trucks start becoming robotic lift trucks?" Friedman ponders. "Clearly, Seegrid is betting on the latter."

Friedman notes plans for Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA) and the Automation Technologies Council to co-locate their next respective ProMat and Automate exhibitions on 21-24 March 2011 in Chicago, Illinois ( News #460). Further, MHIA intends to launch its own supply chain-oriented MODEX trade show on 6-9 February 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia ( News #475). Robotic material handling equipment includes automated guided vehicles (AGVs) or carts, laser-guided vehicles and self-guided vehicles.

"CSCMP and ProMat, in my mind, are kind of like the bookends of this (technological) sea change in a large mature industry," he says.

Breakthrough technologies

An educational session in CSCMP’s "supply chain of the future" program focused on where breakthrough technologies fit and where they don’t.

Presentations involved fleet-management monitoring from Raymond Corp of Greene, New York; voice solutions from Vocollect Inc of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; automation technology from ASAP Automation of Louisville, Kentucky; and robotic materials handling equipment from Pittsburgh-based Seegrid.

Joe LaFergola, Raymond business and information solutions manager, noted that end-users report "45-85% fewer impacts over three months" with fleet monitoring. A Wisconsin cheese maker reported the 85% figure.

LaFergola says "industry at large" is embracing the concept and beginning to implement fleet optimisation technology. Other than Raymond, forklift brands supplying somewhat comparable fleet management systems include Toyota, BT Industries and Crown. Toyota and BT have the same system. The Raymond and BT businesses report within Toyota Industries Corp.

Raymond introduced its fleet management system in April 2008. A Raymond fleet management system customer can incorporate software and technology from ShockWatch, a unit of Dallas, Texas-based Media Recovery Inc, or ID Systems Inc of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.

Gary Oldham, Vocollect’s western region director of strategic accounts, envisions the firm’s voice applications in the future will be "complementary to other breakthrough technologies" such as radio-frequency identification (RFID) and AGVs. But Oldham notes, "Voice technology . . . cannot serve as a substitute for good business practices."

Vocollect voice technology is not suitable within an environment lacking discipline or "where a significant amount of value-added work" is involved, Oldham says. That work may involve counting parts, placing components in a sleeve or moving short distances.

Damir Kantardzic, president of ASAP Automation, notes the aging of the US workforce constitutes a reason for additional implementation of automation systems in manufacturing, assembly and storage applications.

Seegrid’s Friedman says criteria for his firm’s robotic equipment limit travel distance to 660 ft (200 m) and confinement within one facility that "should be 500,000 sqft (45,000 sqm) for a distribution facility and 200,000 sqft (18,000 sqm) for a manufacturing facility".

CSCMP’s 24 educational sessions were held in four separate venues amid the trade show exhibits.

Trade show items

• Raymond had six models of operational equipment at the CSCMP exhibition: a 9600 Swing-Reach, a 4450 sit-down counterbalance, a 4250 stand-up counterbalance, a 7400 Reach-Fork, a 8400 pallet truck with fuel cell and an 102XM pallet truck.
• Universal Robotics Inc of Nashville, Tennessee launched patent-protected Neocortex software that removes constraints to flexible automation and allows machines to learn from experience in the physical world. The initial market: an automated mixed-size box handler for the materials handling industry, replicating human object moving capabilities in unstructured environments. "With Neocortex, we’ve given industrial robots the ability to adapt and react to the world around them and execute tasks in an ever-changing environment," says David Peters, CEO of Universal Robotics. "With this ability to learn, machines will be implemented in revolutionary ways across industries." For a hardware and machine intelligence work cell, Universal Robotics partnered with Motoman Robotics of West Carrollton, Ohio, a division of Yaskawa Electric Corp’s North and South American operations.
• Rush Tracking Systems LLC of Lenexa, Kansas is working with management of an Iowa manufacturer’s warehouse to install RFID technology in 2011 for use with customised SAP AG software. An assessment was conducted in August, says Toby Rush, president. Private equity firm Pharos Capital Group LLC of Nashville, Tennessee acquired Rush Tracking in November.
• HK Systems Inc of New Berlin, Wisconsin has completed a trial of a freezer-rated AGV at an unidentified customer location, reports Derek Roberts, an HK account executive in Clearwater, Florida. HK says the AGV can replace all the functions of a conventional forklift in the harshest freezer environments. At CSCMP, HK operated an HK35/F counterbalanced AGV with lifting capacities of 3,500 lbs (1,575 kg) and up to 21 ft (6.3 m) and 2,200 lbs (990 kg).
• Kiva Systems of Woburn, Massachusetts is marketing an automated trash and recycling system for warehouse and distribution centre applications. The solution uses the same orange robots as Kiva’s mobile fulfillment system. As emptying is needed, a software-controlled Kiva robot picks up and carries recycling or trash pods to a bin for automated dumping into a compactor, shredder or baler. Kiva introduced the trash and recycling system in April.
• In August, Seegrid began conducting a three-month trial of its SafetyPick order selection assistant in a Pittsburgh warehouse of grocery chain Giant Eagle Inc. Seegrid intends to introduce the technology in 2011. SafetyPick combines Seegrid robotic pallet trucks, a user’s current order selection terminals and warehouse-management-system integration software.
• Intelligrated Inc of Mason, Ohio demonstrated material handling automation technologies at the exhibition.

Lombard, Illinois-based CSCMP organised the annual conference, which had about 3,100 delegates.
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