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proANT 490 for open paint barrels weighing 100 kg

The transport of open paint barrels has been fully automated for Bierbaum, Germany’s largest producer of bed linen. InSystems Automation developed a driverless transport system consisting of four autonomously navigating transport robots of the proANT 490-series for this company. The vehicles are deployed within the area between paint supply and four printing machines. They transport open paint barrels with differing dimensions that may weigh up 100 kg, which were moved around by workers using pushcarts before.

Industry: Textile production

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Task and customer benefit

The Bierbaum Unternehmensgruppe GmbH produces textiles and is one of the few companies in this industry that manage to work profitably within Germany. This is in large parts due to Bierbaum’s high level of automation within the production process.

In the production site Borken, patterns and designs are printed on bed linen. The printing plant is meant to be upgraded during production expansions. One of the steps to do so is the automation of the transport of paint barrels from the paint supply area where paint is mixed to the printing machines.

Bierbaum’s goal in using autonomous transport robots is most of all to make the production more efficient and allow employees to spend less time on non-value adding tasks.

Initial situation

The transport robots are meant to navigate between the paint supply and printing area. They are to carry open paint barrels with differing dimensions which may weigh up to 100 kg. These barrels are supposed to be transported both when they are full and when they are empty.

Before the driverless transport system was implemented, the paint barrels were transported manually using pushcarts.

Project description

The paint barrels are picked up or loaded off by the robots at pre-determined stations with conveyor belts. To allow precise navigation for the robots, a reference panel is installed at every such station. A „hardware handshake“ between vehicle and station is also implemented to ensure that the vehicle is positioned entirely correctly. The conveyor belt will only be activated to pass on the barrel if it is guaranteed that the vehicle is in the right position to receive it.

The reference panel is a triangle the AGV uses for fine positioning. AGVs usually possess an accuracy of +/- 5 cm at their destination when driving at normal speed. This may not be precise enough in all places, so in order to ensure that the AGV arrives in just the right position in front of a station, stations can be outfitted with a triangle of 90° or 135°. AGVs then use the triangle’s tip to position themselves in just the right distance from it, allowing them to reach an accuracy of +/- 1 cm.

A „hardware handshake“ refers to sensoric elements installed at the station and the vehicle used to perform a check. Three sensors on each installation work via lock-and-key principle and communicate with one another (receiver-sender). If the vehicle is in the right position at the station, the station passes on the paint barrel.

The vehicles move fully autonomously with an average speed of 1 m/s around the hall. For comparison: a human’s average walking speed is 1.4 m/s. A SICK-laser which is integrated in the vehicles scans all rooms, walls and machines in order to create a map the vehicle uses to navigate freely within the area and reach its set destinations. The vehicles‘ communication takes place via WLAN. A fleet manager keeps track of all vehicles‘ battery status and sends them to their charging stations when necessary, where they need only stay a few minutes thanks to modern battery technology.

proANTs communicate with their fleet management, order management and among each other via WLAN. The order management is what places transport orders on vehicles. These orders can be generated and distributed in different ways, depending on customer requirements.

The transport orders are created by Bierbaum’s own, already existing production software. To make this possible, an interface called AIC (AGV Interface Controller) was installed. This AIC collects and coordinates transport orders and sends them to vehicles. While doing so, it ensures that the robot closest to the machine that requires a transport action is tasked with executing it, among other things. It furthermore coordinates the vehicles in general and sees to it that they do not create jams or get in each other’s way.

To guarantee that no danger arises from the robots transporting the heavy paint barrels (i.e. the barrel falling and potentially endangering workers), the robots are made to be entirely safe to use around people. This means that they can be deployed side by side with human workers without any need for further safety precautions such as safety fences or seperate transport routes. If an obstacle is detected in the vehicle’s path, it slows down and navigates around it or, if necessary, halts completely.

The material flow-solution using proANT transport robots made by InSystems integrates into the Bierbaum company’s -pre-existing production and could be put into operation without any constructional changes.

Customer advantages:
  • Autonomously navigating vehicles take care of the material flow so that no workers need to be deployed for the transport of heavy items
  • The AGVs can be installed without any need for changes in infrastructure (e.g. reflectors)
  • Product quality and and process reliability are improved
  • Process supply shortages are minimised
  • Transport orders are fulfilled in a precise, efficient and safe manner
  • Individual integration in the plant context
  • The AGV fleet is scalable, meaning that more vehicles can be added should they be needed due to future production increases.
  • All movement of materials is protocolled. This makes the material flow transparent.