Today, mass production and packaging in factories is highly automated, while logistics are still lagging behind.The transportation of raw materials and finished products still depends on manual labor. But an EU study of Automated Vehicles foreshadows changes in this area in the next decade, as well as the emergence of thousands of jobs
Transporting raw materials and finished goods around the plant is still a labor-intensive process, which is primarily accomplished using forklift trucks. This system is traditionally error-prone, costly, inefficient (in terms of scheduling and energy consumption) and often leads to accidents. Delays of all kinds are common even in the most automated plants, making timely deliveries and inventory difficult.
The PAN-Robots project, which involves six partners in five EU countries, exists thanks to EU funding of 3.33 million euros and is dedicated to providing innovative technologies for logistics automation in the so-called "Factory of the Future" (FoF).
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) used in factories today are still in their early stages of development. Companies that use them get their investments back fairly quickly, but these systems can be significantly improved with onboard cameras, laser scanners and 3D object imaging systems, " explained Dr. Kay Fürstenberg, project coordinator at SICK AG, a German company that produces sensors.
Wide Angle Robot
PAN-Robots focuses on our core work areas and has : systems for 3D plant imaging; advanced perception systems on board Automated Guided Vehicles; a state-of-the-art monitoring control center and infrastructure laser scanners distributed throughout the facility.
The most innovative technology in the project is a stereo camera with a fish-eye lens mounted on top of the AGV. It uses 3D images to keep an eye out for obstacles.
A 360-degree camera field of view ("3D vision") and laser safety inspection scanners ("2D safety") ensure that the robot has no "blind spots" and ensures safety for people working around it in the factory or warehouse. The vehicle can turn with full visibility, stop in front of an obstacle in its path, or go around it. The perception system can even "see" what is around the corner by interacting with laser scanners at intersections.
PAN-Robots have passed their first tests at the Coca-Cola plant in Madrid. Now the team is preparing to test at a soft drink factory in Bilbao to test the machine under real conditions, and will prepare a final demonstration in time for the closing of the project in October of this year.
The results are very interesting, " said Dr. Fürstenberg, "By testing the robot in two factories, we can demonstrate that the technology adapts to different environments.
Results include innovative self-localization technology that relies on identifying natural landmarks in the warehouse rather than installed reflectors, saving 90% on the installation of the reflector system.
Advanced AGVs also use 50% less energy than a conventional forklift and perform each operation faster than current AGVs, which means fewer vehicles will be able to do the same amount of work in the future. In addition, the PAN-Robots system can be up and running in two months rather than six months, reducing plant downtime.
First products are getting ready to hit the market
The partners are now discussing several products with existing customers. There is a possibility that they will be released to the market within the next few years. Since other projects will require more implementation effort, the partners aim to launch the camera and other systems in the medium term.
There’s a good chance that half of Europe’s plants By 2030. will work with fleets of Automated Vehicles, Dr. Furstenberg believes, and robot manufacturers will create thousands of jobs over the next decade.