ProMat and Automate Day 2 News, Notes, and Forklifts

KUKA showed its industrial robots playing musical instruments and lifting giant displays at Automate 2019. Source: Robotics Business Review.

April 10, 2019      

CHICAGO – Wow, there are a lot of robots here at the ProMat 2019 and Automate 2019 shows. Of course, there are lots of other things, like conveyor systems, pallets, racks, and forklifts (or, as those in the industry like to say, lift trucks). Continuing our coverage of the shows, here are some additional product announcements from companies that I met with.

Humatics, Vecna team up to improve navigation

Microlocation provider Humatics announced a partnership with Vecna Robotics at the show. The agreement will integrate Humatics’ KinetIQ 300 microlocation system into Vecna’s fleet of self-driving vehicles, allowing them to navigate outdoor environments and access areas of a warehouse that previously was difficult, such as loading docks.

Examples of how the microlocation platform will help self-driving vehicles in the warehouse space include:

  • Navigation down to the centimeter in unstructured and dynamic environments. For example, a worker using a pallet jack to move boxes in and out of a loading dock can slow robots only equipped with lidar or fiducial stickers for navigation, Humatics said. The KinetIQ 300 system can recognize these changes without confusion, with 2-cm repeatability from up to 500 meters away.
  • Operation indoors and outdoors and in all weather conditions. This will allow Vecna vehicles to move pallets from an outdoor loading dock to an indoor warehouse storage area, or move goods between different buildings.
  • Increased operational efficiency in facilities that have more than 20 automated vehicles.

“Navigation for autonomous mobile robots in the warehouse has hit limitations that can only be remedied with more precise microlocation,” said David Mindell, CEO and co-founder of Humatics. “Humatics created the KinetIQ 300 to give mobile robots of all shapes and sizes a reliable way to move freely between indoor and outdoor warehouse environments, dynamically adapting to people and things in constantly shifting spaces.”

Dan Patt, CEO of Vecna Robotics, said their vehicles already have high confidence in self-driving, but the company is always looking to innovate and improve those features. “To facilitate this, we seek to collaborate with industry experts, such as Humatics,” he said. “As we continue to grow, we look forward to working with them to ensure our self-driving vehicles work in all environments, including indoor/outdoor spaces.”

New mobile robot features from Locus

Locus Robotics announced its Spring 2019 software and hardware updates for its autonomous mobile robots at the show. New features include omnichannel support, the ability for associates to handle putaway (replenishment) duties simultaneously with picking functions, multi-order and multi-tote picking, and an accessory power port for the robot that lets users place peripherals such as a label printer onto the LocusBot.

Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics

Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics

“We’re especially excited to introduce the industry’s first, full omnichannel support that seamlessly handles all aspects of fulfillment for retail, wholesale, and e-commerce channels,” said Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics. “Together, these new features enable us to deliver even greater levels of optimization and productivity gains to our customers and continue our goal of consistently delivering results and innovation across the entire spectrum of order fulfillment.”

The omnichannel support gives companies the ability for efficient picking of complex retail shipments, while simultaneously picking orders for retail store replenishment, wholesale, and e-commerce orders on a single robot.

Other updates in the spring software release include bulk item picking, which lets associates pick larger quantities of goods for later sorting at a sortation station, real-time traffic flow management to improve picking velocity and productivity, and custom robot branding options for the robots.

In addition, the company has added gamification features to its software, allowing customers to create “fun and engaging internal competitions to motivate and reward warehouse workers for achieving high order fulfillment levels” as a way to improve the working experience for employees. The company said this feature can be valuable for companies that integrate pay-for-performance programs to help incentivize warehouse workers.

Yale shows off robotic reach lift truck

Labor shortages for forklift drivers have many warehouses looking for resources to handle storage and retrieval tasks, including robotics automation. Yale Materials Handling showed off its new Yale robotic reach truck, a dual-mode pantograph robotic lift truck that can autonomously deposit and retrieve loads from locations as high as 30 feet, and reach into double-deep storage areas.

Yale Robotic Reach Truck Day 2 ProMat

The new Yale Materials Handling robotic reach truck.

The company said the high-lifting capability of the reach truck makes it ideal for distribution centers facing a shrinking labor pool and pressure to maximize vertical storage space due to pressures from e-commerce demand.

Through a partnership with JBT, the robotic reach truck uses a combination of sensors and 3D cameras to achieve its precision and effectiveness at higher-level storage locations, “capable of exceeding the productivity of operator-driven trucks,” Yale said.

“The robotic reach truck’s ability to go as high as 30 feet opens up a wide range of new tasks for automation, enabling operations to maximize utilization of robotic solutions and achieve return on investment faster than ever,” said Mick McCormick, vice president of robotics and automation at Yale Materials Handling.

The robotic reach truck is the first model to commercialize through Yale’s collaboration with JBT, and is now available in North America. The dual-mode feature allows human drivers to take over tasks and operate the reach truck as a regular truck lift. Other robotic lift trucks from Yale include a robotic tow tractor, end rider, and counterbalanced stacker models.

More to come!

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