The demands on intralogistics are growing in the Industry 4.0 era. Robust computer systems integrated in transport vehicles ensure that vehicles are flexible and highly available to meet these demands. They even allow assistance systems in forklifts as have only been familiar to date in high-end cars.
Maximum availability and flexibility are right at the top of the list of requirements for intralogistics. Against this backdrop, the company Krups Fördersysteme has developed an intelligent conveyor system that breaks – or travels – completely new ground. The e-Cart transport system consists of self-propelled smart workpiece carriers that travel on a passive conveyor.
The e-Cart has its own obstacle detection and stops on contact with an active brake. Fitted with a self-diagnosis function, each e-Cart can detect when maintenance is due or if there is a potential fault. It then can be discharged automatically to a separate maintenance station as needed. All movements and queries are controlled autonomously via an integrated smart module, which is based on a block-controller from Turck. Only the desired destination is predefined by the higher-level customer control via a data bus. The maintenance-free running rails with their smart, powered cart, bundled with decentrally controlled standard system components, ensure reliable assembly automation. This increases availability and allows flexible processes with minimum lot sizes.
Precise positioning for driverless transport systems
Driverless vehicles, which transport goods automatically through the factory, are an integral element of many Industry 4.0 logistics concepts. They require detailed position and static data to operate smoothly. Navigation systems to date have used ground markers for this purpose, such as lines or magnetic strips. But, soil contamination, disruptive light received or dust make it more difficult for the driverless transport system to recognise its path.
Kinexon Industries adopted a new approach for its driverless transport system navigation software Kinexon Brain. It uses sensor-based positioning and consolidates several position sensors. On one hand, this involves data from the inertial navigation system. And on the other hand laser data. Both systems are supplemented by position information from a wireless location system. It can identify the position and status of objects based on ultra-wideband positioning. The navigation software automatically chooses the best location information in every situation and combines this to estimate positions precisely. Large volumes of data are required for such a complex navigation system to be able to function. And it must be possible to process this data quickly and efficiently, even under difficult ambient conditions.
Kinexon uses an A-series KBox from Kontron, one of the world’s leading providers of embedded computer technology. Thanks to the compact design, the IoT-enabled box PC is especially suited for integration in low, autonomous forklift trucks. One highlight of the KBox is that it operates without a fan. Flat, autonomous industrial trucks travel close to the floor, which means they have to cope with a lot of dust. As a result, an industrial PC equipped with a fan is not an ideal solution here. However, the KBox from Kontron offers good passive ventilation, meaning it can be used at ambient temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius without being affected by dust.
Accident-free driving for forklifts
High-performance edge computers are not only used in driverless, automated intralogistics systems however. They can also help drivers of conventional forklift trucks, such as the example of the safety kit for forklifts developed by Via Technologies. The system was developed for the Xingchen Hongye Technology Development Company in China, whose aim was to enhance the safety of the existing forklift fleet with the solution called Via Mobile360.
One of the key approaches in this context was the development of a driver monitoring system. It ensures that persons behind the steering wheel devotes their full attention to operating the vehicle. A camera monitors the driver’s cab and conducts a real-time video stream to an on-board computer. Using corresponding algorithms, it recognises whether the driver is on the phone, distracted or tired. The system warns the driver if necessary both visually and acoustically. It even reminds drivers to wear their safety belts. Driver authentication was furthermore integrated in order to ensure that the forklift is only used by trained drivers.
The monitoring system was enhanced by facial recognition algorithms for this purpose. The camera has to recognise a driver’s face as the authorised operator before the driver can commence their shift. A surround view system with four cameras allows the driver to maintain a 360° overview of the surroundings and therefore prevents accidents with other employees or vehicles. The system uses high-tech 3D algorithms, which ensure that a sharp and clear panorama picture is shown on a display in the cockpit.
Safety solution with ADAS
The final building block of the safety solution is the enhancement of the on-board system with ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance System) functions for alerting to collisions from the front, rear and side. Thanks to the additional three cameras, the driver’s attention can be drawn to situations in which the forklift comes dangerously close to objects. The cameras essentially act as sensors, which detect potential collisions and send warnings directly to the cockpit display. This also includes dynamic recognition of moving objects so that the system can warn the driver when an object or person is moving in the direction of the forklift. All algorithms run on a high-performance and scalable on-board computer system.
This example too shows how edge computing software can ensure safer, higher-performance and highly available intralogistics.