Digital, automated, and networked – this is the benchmark for Industry 4.0. But achieving this requires a large number of processes to be adapted. Manual identification processes in the warehouse and with respect to production supply, for example, are set to become a thing of the past. When it comes to warehouses served by forklift trucks, auto ID specialist IdentPro is now offering the solution – a world premiere based on the SICK LMS511 2D LiDAR sensor.
With the 2D LiDAR sensor, IdentPro has developed the world’s first zero-reference localization system for manned industrial trucks. Laser tracking is the basis for the automated identification of pallets and totes using 3D coordinates – without the need to scan bar codes.
“With laser localization, we have set a new industry standard. All the disadvantages of previous tracking solutions have been overcome,” explains Michael Wack, founder and CEO of IdentPro, a provider of digital solutions for automated material tracking in production, warehousing, and inventory applications. The rugged lasers provided by SICK have also played their part here, as they are ideal for the harsh conditions associated with vehicles and operate in any weather. These are all indispensable requirements that Wack demands from a laser for his identplus® forklift management system.
“After conducting in-depth research, we decided to go for the LMS511 2D LiDAR sensor from SICK. We already use sensors from SICK for identplus® and were therefore already familiar with the high quality of SICK products,” states Wack in explaining the decision to opt for the 2D LiDAR sensor from SICK.
Forklift tracking with a 2D LiDAR sensor
So how does the forklift tracking work? The 2D LiDAR sensor on the roof of the forklift works with an aperture angle of 190° to permanently scan the current surroundings of the forklift. From the reflected laser beams (the point cloud), IdentPro uses its own algorithms to calculate the X, Y position of the forklift. The level of accuracy was limited to ± 10 cm. This is sufficient for the automated identification of pallets, totes, or rolls based on their 3D coordinates in the warehouse.
“As no artificial reference points are required, the identplus system is easy to integrate into the building without any construction work, meaning that, for the first time, forklifts and goods can be tracked throughout halls and outdoor areas using just a single technology in a manner that is both precise and repeatable. What’s more, laser localization is maintenance-free,” says Wack, describing the key advantages of the technology.
Previous forklift tracking systems required reference points to be measured at regular intervals for the purposes of recalibration in order to compensate for the drift that occurs during driving and to reduce localization errors. Reference points included marks on the ground that regularly had to be replaced, as they get damaged when forklifts drive over them.
Thanks to the LiDAR sensors, incorporating the identplus® forklift management system couldn’t be easier: the forklifts simply have to drive across the entire area once to create the initial warehouse map onto which all storage spaces (block storage areas, high-bay racking, etc.) are then projected. “Pallets will never get lost again,” promises Wack.
Dynamic changes to the surroundings caused by aspects such as varying stock levels (e.g., block storage areas), other vehicles, or open/closed hall doors are taken into account by specially programmed algorithms which IdentPro has also developed. The initial map of the warehouse is updated regularly.
Precise and repeatable forklift localization is a key requirement for eliminating manual identification tasks, as demanded by Industry 4.0. The position of each forklift is the basis for determining the position of loads (pallets, totes, rolls, coils, etc.). Only when each forklift position can be approached in a repeatable manner at all times, no matter how long the period of time, is it possible to identify loads automatically in the warehouse based on their coordinates. These coordinates then replace the bar codes.
Automated identification of loads
So how does the automated identification of loads work with the identplus® forklift management system? The system is made aware of a new load when it is first brought in. Various processes are available for this in order to meet customers’ specific needs. When the load is dropped off, the X, Y position of the forklift determined by the LiDAR-sensor as well as the mast height Z (also determined with a SICK sensor) is saved in a central database along with the load ID (HU). When this load is picked up again, the saved HU for precisely these X, Y, Z coordinates is queried by the database and retrieved. This allows the load to be identified automatically – without scanning a bar code.
“We are particularly proud of the fact that automated load identification also works with several loads at the same time,” explains Wack and continues: “Goods can be transported behind, over, and next to each other, in any formation. For each load that is moved, the new position is updated automatically in the database. Without any intervention from the forklift driver, the real and digital statuses of the warehouse always match up, as all load data is always incorporated as a digital shadow.”
Since 2015, the laser from SICK has been providing successful localization in IdentPro’s customer projects. “Lots of companies want Industry 4.0. However, the field of internal logistics is not always a key focus for management. Yet the goal can only be achieved when all processes communicate with each other in an automated manner. Actually what is needed is intralogistics 4.0. With our identplus® forklift management system, we offer a solution to this that can be implemented directly,” sums up Wack.