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  Manufacturing Insights   |   September, 2011
Vision-Guided Pallet Trucks Provide Big Savings
by Thomas R. Cutler
 

Seegrid CEO, Dr. Scott Friedman sees factories and warehouses dominated by robots. Unlike expensive AGV solutions requiring massive capitalization, Robotic Industrial Trucks offers operational flexibility, whether a single truck or multiple units, and according to Friedman, "These complete and scalable vision-guided systems result in maximum savings, optimal safety, and unparalleled productivity."

VISION-GUIDED PALLET TRUCK Change Automation Paradigm

Transforming industrial pallet trucks and tow tractors into robotic industrial trucks use sophisticated 3-D machine vision technology to "learn" their surroundings, making them flexible, simple, and affordable. Friedman suggests that, "Facility managers now redeploy resources and maximize the productivity of the existing workforce. WalkThroughThenWork technology (developed by Seegrid) allows these robotic trucks to be up and running in hours, not weeks or months. Streamlining and reducing the cost of the movement of materials in manufacturing and distribution environments, the technologically advanced solutions reduce costs for companies, creating economic and operational advantages.

Vision-guided technology is currently available in two types of robotic forklifts: Robotic Pallet Trucks and Robotic Tow Tractors. The Pallet Trucks replace manned trucks in traditional warehouse operations for manufacturing functions including putaway, transfers and selection, long hauls and cross-docking. A worker simply positions the truck under a pallet, inputs the selected route on the keypad, and the Robotic Industrial Truck does the rest.

Also available for automation improvement is a Towing Attachment, transforming the GP8 Pallet Truck into an unmanned tow tractor that automates the movement of flatbed cars, trains or carts. A manufacturing worker simply attaches the load to the towing attachment and types in the route on the keypad. Companies automate the delivery of parts to production lines, the delivery of end of line products and the movement of inventory pallets.

Implementing the Robotic forklift in a putaway application solution helps improve operational efficiencies by reducing manned travel time. It also allows for increased customer service levels by effectively managing inbound activities and maintaining the velocity for downstream activities. When the truck is integrated a Selection application, such as a warehouse management system (WMS), automation processing improves the efficiency of workflow and increases picking accuracy and worker productivity.

These vision-guided industrial robotic trucks improve efficiency across several industries:
  • CPG
  • Automotive
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Grocery
  • 3PL
  • Food, Beverage, and Tobacco
  • Electronics
  • Postal
  • Warehousing and Distribution
  • General Manufacturing
Labor Efficiency defines Automation Merit

By incorporating the Pallet Truck into current processes, managers are able to refocus workers' efforts to higher value-added tasks, reduce wait and downtime in operations, and decrease the work hours lost by non-value-added manned travel distances. Friedman is clear that, "The ability to quickly adapt to seasonal and market changes, allows Seegrid's GP8 users to reduce dependency on temporary and seasonal workers. Operations managers are able to rapidly, proactively or reactively, change routes and transfer them to other trucks in the fleet. These unique elements make our Pallet Truck a flexible, scalable, and easy-to-operate solution."

The vision system works by creating a 3-D grid, actually an Occupancy Grid, which is a machine vision technique invented by Seegrid's co-founder, Hans Moravec. That is why the company is named, Seegrid. It is a pun on "see the grid". The system lets the robot know where it is located on the grid, localization. It is not designed for object recognition, but can customize the unit and add that capability if customers desired it.

Firms of all sizes now optimize workflow processes by increasing productivity, reducing costs, and creating economic and operational advantages. Founded in 2003, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Seegrid Corp. brings robotic vision-guided technology to the material handling within manufacturing and food distribution industry. With more than thirty years of innovation and research by the leading robotic scientists, engineers, programmers and logistics practitioners worldwide. Seegrid's technology transforms industrial vehicles into un-manned, automated pallet trucks and tow tractors that operate without the need for wire, tape, laser or other costly automated guided vehicle (AGV) guidance systems.

ELMINATING OPERATOR OVER-TIME AUTOMATES CONTROL PROCESSES

With labor comprising over 75% of all warehouse costs, this unique value proposition is simple and clear according to Friedman, "The cost of a customer implementing Seegrid's vision-guided technology is substantially less, than the cost of paying a pallet truck operator, over-time."

Distribution and manufacturing facilities experience these savings:
  • The need for manned travel
  • Dock-to-stock cycle time
  • Per shift labor costs
  • Reliance on seasonal and temporary workers
Automated guided vehicles (AGV) currently require significant and costly facility overhaul. Seegrid trucks do not require cables, tracks, lasers, magnetic tape or wires; deployed immediately, without changing the existing facility design, maintenance routines, or mechanical components, this ready-to-implement procedure is a central distinction in the robotic industrial truck value proposition.

Lean technology and continued process improvement philosophy, guarantees innovation. Focusing automation materials handling processes, and the underlying robot perception technology, companies must employ sophisticated, state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, Bayesian statistics, image processing, and machine learning methods in its products. Proprietary, patented technology allows these robotic products to manage a set of internal, statistical, and detailed 3D maps of customers' facilities.

With very thin margins the norm, this automation technology, ensures the ability to rapidly deploy, adapt, change, and scale robotic industrial trucks to fit the ever-changing business needs. Skilled workers focus on more value-added tasks, while the trucks safely perform unmanned functions throughout the facility.

Seegrid is now poised as the leader in the $38 billion forklift market because of these cost-effective automation techniques.


Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc, (www.trcutlerinc.com). Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of nearly four thousand journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com or 888-902-0300. See More Details.

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