Intralogistics 4.0 AGVs

The automated future of intralogistics

Author: Dr. Martin Schwaiger, manager of technological development for logistics systems, Jungheinrich Moosburg

The trend towards automation and networking in intralogistics did not begin with the term "Industry 4.0". Logistics has always had a central function, and networked systems have already been a common reality for many years. Thus, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) have a series of interfaces to other IT systems in the company and to the warehouse technology for synchronizing the flow of information with the real, physical flow of material. But in recent years, a whole range of new technologies and assistance systems have been added – from systems to support order picking, data glasses, robots, camera and positioning systems to Cloud applications. Modern industrial trucks are also becoming more intelligent. They have various sensors, evaluate data from their environment and are capable of performing various activities such as approaching the next warehouse position semi or even fully automatically. But the amount and complexity of data items that comes with this as well as mastering the interfaces present great challenges to companies. Especially in logistics, a wide range of different software systems are in use. As a result, central IT systems and warehouse equipment are often unable to understand each other. But networking is necessary to master the complexity and make use of the potential of Intralogistics 4.0.

The Jungheinrich Logistics Interface, which has received several awards, successfully creates an interface between warehouse technology and WMS that takes into account the diversity of warehouse IT, intralogistics processes and applications. The "middleware" is installed on the truck terminal or on a warehouse server where it communicates between warehouse technology and WMS. This way, the logistics interface sends transport orders from the WMS to an AGV, for example, and reports back to the WMS when the order is complete. The interface of the WMS must not change during this process even if it presents a different "language" or is at completely different process steps than what the AGV needs. In addition to functioning as interface converter and data turntable, another essential feature is the flexible additional intelligence which allows it to enter the world of automation quickly and without difficulties. Networked solutions and smart automation systems are industry-independent and of interest for small, medium and large companies. This is clear from the sharp rise in interest and investment in AGVs in the past few years.

More and more companies want to take full advantage of the potential for optimisation by automating their material flow with AGVs. Especially in standardized routine tasks, using an AGV saves time and money in reduced transport damage. The operating company also benefits from efficient transport based on reliable processes and a short implementation time. Due to progress in communication, navigation and safety-engineering, AGVs can be used very flexibly 24 hours a day, including in mixed operation with manual trucks. They are also easy to integrate into existing systems and building structures.

The automation of company-internal material flow with automated trucks began in the 1960s. In the beginning the vehicles, which were guided visually and later magnetically or by inductive guide wires, were very simple, rigid and inflexible. Modern automated trucks such as Jungheinrich AGVs are equipped with laser scanners and various other types of sensors. For laser navigation, a laser beam rotates 360 degrees approximately eight times a second. During this process, the laser on the truck detects reflectors that have been attached to racks, walls, columns or other peripherals in the warehouse. Navigation items on or in the floor are no longer necessary. The system automatically detects the reflector marks and measures the distance from them. This way, the AGVs always know their position in the warehouse at any time. Navigation based on the surrounding topology, called natural navigation, is still relatively new. The truck orientates only by means of its surroundings and does not need the marks and reflectors typically used in warehouses for laser navigation. Stationary installations in the surrounding area are used as landmarks. Because Jungheinrich AGVs are equipped with an extensive safety system with personal protection sensors, they can be used alongside manual trucks and also alongside employees.

Into the future – networked, digital and automated

The vision of Intralogistics 4.0 with self-organising material flow systems leads through innovative assistance systems and digital apps that support humans in their work. A practical example of a smart automation system is the Jungheinrich liftNAVIGATION, the semi-automatic rack height select for reach trucks. The data for approaching the correct warehouse position is sent directly from the warehouse management system to the truck terminal and from there directly to the control unit of the reach truck. The operator simply drives to the correct rack length position and the fork is automatically raised to the right storage compartment. The operator has even more extensive support with warehouseNAVIGATION, the assistance system for narrow aisle trucks, in which the horizontal position is also approached semi-automatically. This prevents reaching incorrect destinations, extensive searching as well as incorrect stacking and retrieving. In addition to process reliability, users save time and thereby increase their throughput performance. Jungheinrich has already equipped more than 1000 trucks with this option. Efficiency has been increased by over 25 percent in practical applications using assistance systems of this kind.

There is no doubt that the future of intralogistics is networked, digital and automated. New digital solutions are occurring primarily in mobile apps and web applications. This gives users access to their data and logistics including the truck and AGV fleet at any time and in any place so they can manage from different sites, internationally and independently of the manufacturer. With a modern warehouse management system that is able to communicate with various IT systems and warehouse systems and support mobile applications, companies are prepared for the requirements of the fourth industrial revolution and can use new technologies and flexible automation solutions efficiently, for example with Jungheinrich AGVs.

The crucial element is to introduce the new technologies with careful consideration and good planning. It is advisable to start with smaller steps and then add more elements step by step. This way, the complexity will remain manageable and company processes can grow in response. Step-by-step expansion is possible at any time by using modular systems and with optimum interaction of all components (software and hardware).

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