- By John Hayes
- March 19, 2021
Autonomous lift trucks, also called autonomous forklifts or autonomous reach trucks, are gaining accuracy through 3D camera technology, which gathers 20-30 times more data than 2D perception to deliver higher pick/drop accuracy (+/-10mm).
Automation must never compromise accuracy particularly in fast-moving consumer goods warehouses and distribution centers. Autonomous lift trucks, also called autonomous forklifts or autonomous reach trucks, are gaining that accuracy through 3D camera technology, which gathers 20-30 times more data than 2D perception to deliver higher pick/drop accuracy (+/-10mm).
Autonomous lift trucks are most valuable in the manufacturing, distribution and 3PL environment when embedded with infrastructure-free navigation technology. After a decade of research and development, the best-in-class types of these autonomous vehicles use 3D cameras to pick and drop pallets safely. Recognition is based on the 3D shape of the pallet—it considers the inside of the pallet, not just the front—and it recognizes and works with all pallet types. The reach robot on these vehicles drives cost savings and quality improvements. Pick and drop from conveyors, gravity racks, and mobile racks add to numerous application possibilities.
Autonomous forklift aisle space and performance
Companies using wide aisle forklifts (a sit-down counterbalanced truck), generally require aisles to be 12-13 feet wide for standard 48-inch pallets.Narrow aisle trucks allow the aisles to be 9.5 feet wide, and for very narrow aisle (VNA) trucks they can be 6 feet or less.
Some of the additional autonomous lift truck features must include a 2D barcode reader because it triggers custom actions upon scanning and ensures product traceability. There are also energy options needed from standard lead-acid or TPPL utilizing fast charging technology.
Because of the wide variety of designs in 3PLs and plant floors, load overhang detection helps to continuously monitor load size and position during a pick/drop process. A curtain laser automatically and dynamically must be able to detect an obstacle at ground level (or at any height) maintaining optimal safety conditions.
The wheelbase of a lift truck is the same length as a normal counter-balance forklift; however, the body is more compact. When lifting a load, a reach truck moves the load back within the wheelbase. Less of the load is protruding from the reach truck, allowing it to work in much narrower aisles.
Turret type forklifts are used for operator pallet put-away and retrieval as well as order picking (case picking). A reach truck is designed for use in warehouses or 3PLs requiring high stacking in very narrow aisles.
Few autonomous lift trucks offer integration of lasers into the chassis which make the design compact and optimizes the minimum aisle space required.
Facility layout optimization and space savings
Increasingly narrow aisle widths must be navigated allowing facility layout optimization and space savings. The autonomous lift trucks interface with machines, conveyors, WMS, and ERP software for full integration within existing operations. Perhaps automation can best be quantified using lift trucks because load movements are up to 55% faster, dramatically increase throughput.
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