The Formic modular transport system enables a single person to remotely move loads of up to 40 tonnes. (Image: Markus Breig, KIT)
Moving heavy loads autonomously
Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) will play an important role in networked production and on the intralogistics and mail-order sectors in future. They’ll be able to help companies cope with increasing product variety, smaller batches, ever-faster delivery times and the shortage of skilled workers. Because AMRs are able to independently transport even heavy loads and move entire production machines when they need to be replaced or relocated. And they become even more effective when they’re operated in swarms.
Omron is just one expert in the field of automation that’s developing the corresponding technologies to enable companies to produce more flexibly, efficiently and sustainably. Autonomous mobile robots, for example, will be able to raise productivity in manufacturing and logistics processes, increase throughputs, prevent errors, improve material traceability and allow employees to focus on tasks that require complex human skills. In contrast to conventional driverless transport systems, AMRs adapt to a plant’s available space and don’t require costly alterations.
"We’re continuously expanding our range. The first robotic solutions were designed for loads of up to 60 kilograms, then for 250 kilograms – but the new HD-1500 can now handle one and a half tonnes. Even greater variety in collaborative robots will exist in future because customers want solutions that have been adapted to their production requirements. That’s why we're launching a new model for loads of up to 650 kilograms this year."
Dr. Klaus Kluger, General Manager Central East Europe at Omron Electronics GmbH
Omron’s LD and HD series recognised with the METI Award. (Image: Omron)
Omron’s transport robots are also able to form fleets of multiple autonomous mobile robots. The system combines various technologies to do so: Simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM), for example, enables the creation of maps of unfamiliar environments with simultaneous location tracking and obstacle avoidance. These type of transport platforms will, in cooperation with system integrators, make it possible to realise automation in many other areas of industry in the future.
Swarm moves up to 40 tonnes
Even production machines sometimes need to be replaced or relocated. But their heavy weight and the often confined spaces in production locations means that the assembly, dismantling and repositioning of large machines often requires lots of time and effort. Such work is usually still carried out by hand with the help of armoured rollers. Formic – aspin-off from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) – has now developed a partially automated transport system that operates in swarms to replace production equipment.
"Our system consists of a number of separately driven vehicles that, when used in combination, are able to lift weights of up to 40 tonnes off the ground and move them in a semi-automated manner."
Dr. Maximilian Hochstein, Institute for Material Handling and Logistics (IFL) at the KIT
It’s possible to combine up to 15 vehicles to transport heavy loads. They’re wirelessly interconnected and equipped with cameras so that they’re able to coordinate themselves and act synchronously. These powerful tiny machines allow a single person to remotely and comfortably move machines, equipment and goods of different sizes and weights. The control – which is a joystick – still requires manual operation but the commands are executed automatically. The load is lifted off the ground and then moved flexibly. A network of three vehicles is already able to transport a production machine typically found in the manufacturing sector.
The vehicles position themselves autonomously under the load and then lift it off the ground before moving it in a highly flexible manner. (Image: Markus Breig, KIT)
Triple innovation: Concept, mechanics and software
Tommi Kivelä of the Institute for Material Handling and Logistics at the KIT says that both the swarm concept itself and the mechanical system used to realise the individual vehicles and finally the control software are innovative. Theoretically, even more than 15 vehicles could be linked to allow even heavier loads to be shifted; “But there are still limits to that due to the safety control system.”
Formic is supported by the Exist-Gründungsstipendium, a funding programme by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action for start-ups from the field of science and is supported and advised by the KIT-Gründerschmiede (Business Incubator).