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Continuous development as a benchmark: Gradual automation using autonomous mobile robots.


Sector: Leading provider of cables and integrated connection solutions.
Challenge: Workflows in the distribution centre are becoming increasingly faster and more demanding.
Solution: Gradual expansion of automated processes.
Products: Use of autonomous mobile robots (AMR) - STILL AXH 10, max. load capacity 1,000 kg, max. travel speed 2.2 m/s.

U. I. LAPP GmbH recently opened its new logistics centre in Hanover. Since then, industrial trucks from STILL have been increasing the level of automation with their smart assistance systems – and thus also increasing safety and efficiency. Now the company is taking the next step in this direction. The company is testing an implementation of the STILL AXH autonomous mobile robot in the intralogistics processes of the new distribution centre, the medium-term goal being the gradual automation of the company’s intralogistics.

Growth through automation

U. I. LAPP GmbH opened a new distribution centre in Hanover as a response to the constantly increasing revenue in the cable industry. From the racking system to the individual industrial trucks, the entire intralogistics chain was planned, installed and put into operation by STILL. There is a wide variety of goods to be transported: in addition to small parts such as fibre optic cables weighing just a few grams, there are also six-tonne cable drums for energy supplier infrastructure. Smooth and rapid intralogistics has always been the key to success for U. I. LAPP. And this is the case now more than ever. After all, distribution centre workflows are picking up pace and becoming even more demanding. STILL‘s smart driver assistance systems have already increased the level of automation in the new warehouse. Now the company is taking the next step: „We must continue to develop in order to always offer our customers an efficient and satisfactory service – and even go above and beyond that,“ says Andreas Gesse, Head of Logistics Centre Hanover, U. I. LAPP GmbH, describing the company‘s aspirations. To achieve this goal, the company relies on the gradual expansion of automated processes in collaboration with STILL. With the STILL AXH autonomous mobile robot, intralogistics processes can be optimised and streamlined perfectly: The autonomously navigating trucks minimise the risk of accidents and at the same time noticeably increase efficiency. And compared to classic automated warehouse solutions, the small, intelligent trucks can be integrated extremely quickly and cost-effectively into existing environments and systems.

Up and running in no time

„The great thing about the AXH is how easy the implementation was,“ says Andreas Gesse. “With the right staff on side, it was easy to create the mapping, configure the first few routes and get things up and running in no time.“ The commissioning of an AXH starts the same for every customer: first, mapping is necessary so that the robot can „get to know“ its environment in the truest sense of the phrase. Mapping involves the manually controlled driving of the AXH through the customer warehouse. During this process, the truck automatically records all fixed structures, such as walls or pillars. The AXH stores these fixed structures on a map of the building and uses them later for navigation. By means of so-called SLAM technology (simultaneous localisation and mapping), the AXH permanently compares the navigation map created at the start with real-time data from its laser scanners during transport operations in order to determine its location in the warehouse. It also uses parameters such as wheel rotations and wheel angles to provide orientation. It is always able to navigate precisely and flexibly adjust its route to avoid obstacles. After mapping, the robot is integrated into the customer‘s systems: „With the AXH, it is possible to quickly and easily integrate the system into the customer‘s goods management system“, explains Christian Eickhoff, Service Engineer, STILL GmbH, „so that the two systems can communicate with each other and the commands can be automatically transmitted from the customer‘s goods management system to the truck.“ Transport orders for the AXH can be triggered in three different ways: from a host system (e.g. WMS or ERP), via a sensor located at the transfer stations, for example, or by means of manual triggers such as push buttons, scanners or terminals. Alternatively, it is possible to transfer transport orders between the warehouse management system and the master controller software by means of interfaces.

Fast, flexible and safe

The transfer points can be configured as fixed stations as part of a conveyor system or variably as any POIs (point of interest) in the logistics centre – the smart robot can do both. In the logistics centre, fixed delivery and pick-up points for the truck were implemented. „These points can be changed relatively easily by us or by the customer, meaning the truck gives the customer a very high degree of flexibility,“ says Christian Eickhoff. For this purpose, the AXH travels under the load carrier (the trolley), picks it up and goes to the destination station. Before being delivered to the station, the AXH uses its 3D camera to ensure that it is free. The small robot can transport loads of up to one tonne, and at a maximum speed of 2.2 m/s, it brings its goods quickly to their destination even on long transport routes. U. I. LAPP GmbH knows how to take advantage of the speediness of the AXH. Warehouse Manager Martin de Groot says: “We have set up ‘motorways’ where the AXH can play out its speed advantage.“ At the same time, the AXH is a safe solution at any speed – even in mixed traffic with forklifts and pedestrians. Thanks to SLAM navigation, it reliably avoids both people and objects, and it also has numerous built-in safety systems with warning lights, horns and all-round sensors. And when danger is detected, the AXH stops automatically until it is possible to travel safely again.

„We are glad that we have now started with the pilot,“ sums up Andreas Gesse. „The intention and the goal is ultimately to implement this technology more and more in order to take advantage of the occupational safety and increased efficiency that it offers.“