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A new autonomous transport system is an example of how Roto is ahead of many other businesses when it comes to using the latest technology to make processes more efficient.

Our production plant in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, near Stuttgart already has driverless transport systems operating inside the factory and storage areas. Now, a new fully autonomous transport train, consisting of a driverless tractor unit and two trailers, is moving finished goods outdoors across the site. The system can load pallets, move them to a destination and then unload them, all without any need for human control.

This latest innovation is part of Roto’s “Logistics Strategy 2025”, a long-term plan that began in 2019 in order to implement several automation and digitalisation projects, all based around improving the flow of goods around the site. In 2020, Roto commissioned our first autonomous transport process at Leinfelden. This indoor system takes empty cardboard boxes to the production area, where they are filled with newly made components. It then takes them back to the interim storage area.

With that system running smoothly and proven to work well, the next step has been to commission an outdoor transport service that can also operate completely autonomously. Supplier Neumaier Industry GmbH consulted on the project in order to assess the requirements and specify a vehicle that can meet all of Roto’s operational and safety requirements.

The tractor unit and trailers have safety scanners that monitor the space all around the vehicle, detecting the smallest obstacles and making sure that no person can get too close. If anything out of the ordinary is detected, the train will stop immediately and will only resume once the obstruction is removed, or the person steps out of the way. The train stays on its route using geo navigation and moves at a maximum speed of 5 km/h.

Communication between the new outdoor transport train and other logistics systems has been precisely coordinated. The outdoor train collects finished goods from the interim storage area where the autonomous indoor transport system is working alongside several manually controlled systems, so accurate and safe coordination is essential.

The loading and unloading of pallets is achieved using powered roller conveyor technology. This technology is found in both the conveyors in the logistics area and on the two trailers of the outdoor transport train, which can each hold two pallets at any one time.

Stefan Duge, Intralogistics Project Manager at Roto Leinfelden, says, “Now this project has been completed, it has enabled us to optimise the organisation of a large part of our internal material flows. Both transport systems are extremely flexible and ensure continuous material flows within our production and intralogistics.”

He goes on to explain how the system provides added value for customers by achieving faster availability of goods. “Both systems can be used irrespective of the number of work shifts”, he says. “This means that we reduce our throughput times by continuing to transport parts and materials 24/7 without interruption, even at peak production capacity or during holiday periods. As a result, our finished goods are dispatched more quickly and are therefore also available to our customers sooner.”

The outdoor transport train can be controlled manually if required, but it is expected to be very reliable, being designed for use in all weather conditions and requiring just one maintenance check per year.

Given that it is designed specifically for the Roto Leinfelden site, this new system cannot be replicated exactly at other locations, but there is a plan to implement similar technology at other Roto production sites in the medium term. With our ongoing commitment to digitalisation, a number of other “Industry 4.0” projects are already underway at Roto. These include the recording of machine operating data online and a digital spare parts management system. Technologies being trialled at Roto sites include collaborative robots to assist in production and 3D printing (additive manufacturing). Some staff are also trialling mixed reality glasses (HoloLens).

No doubt we will be reporting on some of these innovations in the near future when they are fully commissioned.

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