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Tomorrow’s hub

Adaptable multi-functional vehicle

At the Still pavilion at Cemat 2014, visitors can see a functional prototype of the Cube XX ‘concept vehicle’ live in action. The multi-functional vehicle was developed based on logistics trends and is supposed to be adaptable to new warehouse requirements within a few days.

Tomorrow's hub: a mobile handling center that can be adjusted to changing requirements (Photo: Still)

FULLY AUTOMATED WAREHOUSES ARE FAIRLY INFLEXIBLE AND barely adaptable. When processes or goods change, elaborate planning is necessary to develop new solutions; old plants/parts may need to be removed and new systems installed and taken into operation. For this reason, companies with hard-to-plan or volatile businesses must employ numerous staff and conventional shelves/block storage areas in order to balance out capacity fluctuations or changes in item or order structure.

Retracting the load sockets, taking up a counterbalance and the extensible mast make the hub a counterbalance lift truck (Photo: Still)

The future hub (a movable handling center) is to be easily adjusted to changing requirements. Handling, conveyor and storage technology in the hub should be adaptable to new necessities within a few days. A complete hub should also be able to run at a new site within a few weeks. Still’s (Germany) concept vehicle is part of the research project "Hub2Move". The project is a cooperation of the company and the Fraunhofer Institute for material flow and logistics (IML), as well as four other industrial partners, to develop this ‘hub of the future’. The project was developed in the scope of the Effizienz Cluster Logistik Ruhr, which is promoted by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research.

The initial focus was on the requirements of this kind of handling center. For this, the researchers visited and analyzed logistics hubs and then determined the requirements this adaptable technology needed to meet. In the next few months, the project partners worked on specific questions, amongst them decentralization of conveyor technology, IT support or transport order management, and traffic control. Important elements of technology development in the project also include cellular transport systems and autonomous vehicles to implement the main task of conveying in different versions with requirement compatible functionality and reduced complexity. Still participates in the research project with their Cube XX concept study.

"Logistics of the future must be able to adjust faster and faster to changing requirements. For this, our logistics networks and distribution centers and their technical equipment also have to become flexible enough to take over new tasks very quickly, or even change their site. The Cube XX is a flexible system like this. It presents the future adaptability of industrial trucks," emphasizes Prof. Dr. Michael ten Hompel from Fraunhofer IML.

 
The Six in One functions make sure that the user has just the right machine for the task at hand (Photo: Still)

The Cube XX combines six vehicles in one: tugger train, low lift pallet truck, counterbalance truck, high lift pallet truck, double decker pallet truck and oder picker. The concept vehicle, completed just in time for the trade fair, shows what today's technologies, and particularly sensors, can already do: the electrically-powered vehicle can be used as a mobile autonomous robot or as a manually operated stacker or tractor.

"Our customers' demand for flexibility is rapidly increasing. The possibility of simply taking a vehicle into operation autonomously or operating it manually offers enormous potential for optimization. Flexibility and adaptability will become a key skill for companies in future," comments Bert-Jan Knoef from Still.

The concept vehicle is presented in semi-automatic operation at Cemat, which takes place in Hanover from 19th to 23rd May. The user can control the vehicle with a remote control or by iPad and unfold the forks, extend the load supports, the lifting mast or the driver's cabin, use the tugger train function, or dock the additional counterbalance. In spite of its many functions, the machine is built like a pocket-knife-shaped multifunctional tool: only the tool currently needed is unfolded. The required energy is provided by a lithium-ion battery, which provides enough energy for all-day use of the vehicle with interim charging, in contrast to conventional lead-acid batteries. This is due to its smaller installation space with the same usable energy content. Additionally, the lithium-ion battery can be recharged much faster. The drive unit comes from the horizontal picking serial vehicle CX.

 
The integrated tractor device to which the tugger train elements can be connected turns the vehicle into a tugger train (Photo: Still)

The telescoping mast made of the high-tech material Carbon is a novelty. It has two benefits: on the one hand, its low weight requires less mass in the tail weight. On the other hand, it resists permanent strain better, since it does not deform. To ensure lateral movement of the vehicle (even with extended load supports and when handing over pallets) the front load supports have a ball instead of a wheel. This leads to excellent turning behavior around the front axle and makes 90°, 180°, and even complete 360° turns possible.

The LED lighting includes four daylight running lights on the load side, searching headlights, lateral lamps, headlights, rear lights, and daylight running lights on the drive side. The lamps can light up red (reversing), light red (braking) and white (forward movement), depending on the driving direction and function.
The T-Frame design implemented here is to be used for all vehicle generations in future. The LTX-tractor is the first serial vehicle with this lighting concept and T-Frame design. The vehicle also has a light source in its roof as an indicator system when in fully automatic use. It emits a pulsating blue light circulating around the rotating laser.

 
The auto-lift function causes the vehicle to automatically lift the goods to working height and turns into a horizontal picker (Photo: Still)

The load side also contains a communication screen that indicates the current functions, such as driving direction, lifting conditions (mast moves up-down), running mode (manual, automatic), mode (high lifting, low lifting, tugger train, etc.), battery charge and location in the warehouse. This view is also shown on the iPad ensuring intuitive operation from afar.

A camera for automatic pallet lifting moves with the fork carrier and sends the data via WLAN to other autonomous vehicles, employees (with an iPad), and warehouse management. Safe automatic operation is ensured by the electrically connected person protection attachment at the front and rear and the load-side manual emergency off switch installed at the rear left and right of the load side. The vehicle is controlled via a CAN network with interfaces for control, drive and lifting frame.
Among other things the unit controls the speed synchronization of all drives, the convertibility of the vehicle configurations and controlled movement to lifting height and cabin positions.