June 17, 2016 -- Maximum flexibility, high levels of efficiency and scalability, a short project and implementation period, and a quick return on investment (ROI) are all benefits offered by the WEASEL automated guided vehicle (AGV) from SSI Schaefer as a convenient entry-level to automated transport solutions. These compelling advantages are what won over the Bachmann.CH Group, Bachmann Forming AG, a specialist in developing customized plastic packaging and one of three specialist units of the Swiss family-owned company Bachmann. WEASEL automated transport vehicles (FTF) have been in operation at the company's production site for a few months, handling the internal transport of materials between the production work stations and the existing conveying system to the dispatch area. And their performance has been commendable: switching from manual to automated internal transport processes using the WEASEL saves the company around 7,000 hours a year, which has led to an ROI in significantly less than a year.
Bachmann Forming AG supplies customers in the food and non-food segments with packaging manufactured using the deep-drawing process. The articles from the production machines are manually packed into cartons of varying sizes at 12 linked work stations. The cartons are then transported from the production area to the dispatch area via a stock conveying system. "It was not possible to connect the work stations to the conveying system due to the limited amount of space," explains Bruno Skraber, head of sales planning at SSI Schaefer. "Conventional solutions couldn't be used to automate the transport of goods and materials from the production machines to the transfer location on the conveying system." Managers from Bachmann came upon the innovative WEASEL when visiting SSI Schaefer's stand at a trade fair and knew straightaway that it was the ideal solution for their intralogistics needs. The AGV consists of the transport vehicles, the optical lane system and the control software. Only five weeks after awarding SSI Schaefer the contract, Bachmann put the solution into operation.
The track between the 12 production work stations and the transfer unit to the conveying system measures 175 m in length. Manual transfer stations have been set up at the production machines. Measuring 810 x 420 x 180 mm, the extremely compact automated WEASELs cover this transport distance with ease and no restrictions. "Due to their compact size, these vehicles can even be used in areas that would not be accessible to ground conveyors," adds Bruno Skraber.
Employees at the work stations place the packed product cartons on the manual transfer station in front of them and – by doing this – automatically trigger the WEASEL's collection order. The AGV moves to the work station, picks the carton up and transports it to the transfer location on the existing conveying system. The vehicles are designed to transport a weight of up to 35 kg. At a transfer unit, the cartons are then automatically deposited from the WEASEL onto the conveying system. Finally, the vehicle automatically travels back to the buffer zone or to the next work station to carry out more transport orders. "All these steps are carried out without involving a single employee in the transport processes or handover to the conveying system," says Bruno Skraber. "Reliably, quickly and safely."
Behind this lies innovative technology that can be integrated into the existing IT and warehouse infrastructures. As a result the vehicles navigate at a speed of up to 1 m/sec along an optical lane that can be installed quickly, easily and in a flexible manner. RFID tags positioned under the lane specify the WEASEL's location. The WEASELs receive their transport orders from a fleet controller, which manages the orders and – on the basis of the customer's chosen strategy – assigns them to the relevant vehicles. Communication with the WEASEL is carried out via WiFi.
Three WEASELs are currently in operation at Bachmann Forming. "If revenue or transport structures change, additional vehicles can easily be integrated into the entire system immediately," explains Bruno Skraber. "The system is designed for maximum flexibility, both in terms of the number of WEASELs used and the predefined track." The Hochdorf WEASELs handle 120 transport movements per hour, which equates to a total of around one million packages a year. The high level of availability of the AGVs is ensured by maintenance-free battery packs with a battery life of up to 16 hours. The packs can be charged automatically during the work process or, as at Bachmann, can easily be replaced manually thanks to the quick-change frame.
The efficiency of the WEASELs enables them to support Bachmann's prompt delivery service. At the same time they offer the company a high level of flexibility in terms of the automation of their internal transport processes, future growth rates and expansion to the AGV system, while also relieving employees of unproductive, time-consuming transport tasks. "The low procurement and operating costs, as well as the minimal maintenance requirements, mean the WEASELs have not only paid for themselves in a matter of months, but have also proven to be the ideal semi-automatic solution to the customer's needs. This is an outstanding example of the range of applications covered by the automated guided vehicles from SSI Schaefer," summarizes Bruno Skraber.
SSI SCHAEFER is the world's leading supplier of warehouse and logistics systems. The services it offers range from concept design and warehouse fittings with its own products to the implementation of complex logistics projects as a general contractor. The pooling of collective skills under the umbrella of SSI SCHAEFER lays the foundation for the development of market-oriented, industry-overlapping storage systems and for the conception of complete intralogistics solutions. www.ssi-schaefer.com
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