Stick and Start driverless intralogistics transport system

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At IMHX 2016, BITO Storage Systems will be introducing a new driverless intralogistics transport solution that is easy to implement, adapt or remove and does not require any permanent fixtures. LEO LOCATIVE is 'low-level' Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) that simply follows tape laid on the floor, which can be added to or removed whenever required – It does not require a Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) or a central control computer.

This provides an agile, user-friendly option for all kinds of order picking operations and is particularly useful for ecommerce, order picking peaks and assembly processes. LEO can connect production lines with the warehouse, receiving area and shipping area – reducing the risk of damage and the need for manual handling of heavy loads.

BITO developed LEO at its manufacturing facilities in Meisenheim, Germany, where LEO has already been launched and received tremendous interest as an efficient and flexible low-level AGV solution that offers quick payback. It was developed in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) in Dortmund. The safety concept was worked out and tested in close cooperation with the German employers' liability insurance association.

LEO transports loads to, or picks loads up, from a transfer station – which can also be easily moved as required – for dropping off at other stations along the taped trail. The vehicles do not stop to be loaded or unloaded at the stations, which have load grippers and bin identification sensors to ensure the right bin is picked up or dropped off, providing a seamless flow. Filling levels are also recognised. This ensures fast and easy bin pick-up and drop-off wherever the items are required.

Because the easily adaptable LEO is not a permanently fixed system, warehouse or factory floor space is available for other uses when required. This makes it an ideal alternative to low-level conveyors for the internal transportation of bins and containers up to a maximum of 600 x 400 mm and loads up to 20 kg.

Implementation is a simple 'stick and start' process: red marker tape, which provides an optical track to guide LEO, is laid out as a closed loop. Navigation commands and tasks are transmitted via floor markers – adhesive signal transmitters placed along the path to provide LEO with information on the path layout, target points and operating commands. Target stations can be entered via a display and LEO's e-ink reader will direct the vehicle to its target.

Proximity sensors detect obstacles and maintain a distance between vehicles. A stop and go sensor at its rear reactivates the LEO without manual intervention. When conditions change, such as increased pedestrian traffic, LEO reacts thanks to its speed control. There is also an emergency button to override the system.

LEO can be customised to specific needs, implemented rapidly and changed just as easily whenever required and without any external support. If a change of path is necessary – for example to add a picking station or a packing area – it only needs a strip of tape to be laid and floor markers to be added for the LEO to dutifully follow its new instructions without pause for thought. Removing these sections is then just as simple – simply pull up the tape and floor markers.

The patented transfer stations can be either pick-up only, drop-off only or twin stations to carryout both functions. A buffer conveyor accommodating several bins can be added to allow continuous operations. The addition of a picking table allows picking and sorting can be performed at the station. The stations have been adapted to optimum working height to reduce manual lifting and lowering.

The number of vehicles and transfer stations can be adapted to meet business needs without the need for external support.

LEO is driven by twin electric motors, giving a speed of up to 0.8 m/s and its battery, located at the bottom of the unit, will last at least 8 hours between charges. It can be recharged in the case or exchanged with a fully charged battery.

LEO LOCATIVE can play a key role in improving warehouse, distribution centre or factory layout efficiency as distances between workstations and machines are no longer an issue. Offering predictable transport times, LEO can act as a buffer between processes while also freeing staff to concentrate on their primary function rather than fetching items.

For order picking, LEO allows pickers to remain in their zone, placing picked goods on a transfer station, for transport to the next zone or to goods out where orders can be collated. The solution reduces walking for pickers, increase pick rates and works equally well in reverse for replenishment or returned goods.

In a factory, where there may be several assembly workstations, LEO can be programmed to stop at each workstation to pick up work in progress or finished goods and move them to another target point such as a storage area or a station for the next assembly stage. This solution avoids pile-ups at workstations and frees up space by transporting goods to stock areas. Again, walking distances are also dramatically reduced.

Commenting on the innovative new system, Edward Hutchison, managing director of BITO Storage Systems said: "Repetitive movements of items is common in distribution and manufacturing and even small distances can add up to a considerable amount of unproductive time. In addition to saving time, LEO is supremely space efficient as it obviates the need for floor-mounted structures that create obstructions, thus keeping an entire floor area clear for pedestrians, vehicles and other operations.

"LEO is a very flexible, plug and play order picking solution – its beauty lies in its simplicity. Being a standalone system, it does not communicate with any other piece of materials handling equipment or warehouse management system. This means that no integration is needed and the efficiency gains it can deliver will see a quick return on investment. BITO can, of course, also provide racking, shelving, bins and containers to provide a complete solution around LEO."

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