One area being presented at World of Material Handling 2016 fascinates me in particular: automation. When people hear about his vast, diverse field they often think of robots replacing human beings. What many people forget is that semi-automatic systems are going to become more common in the near future. I’m referring to solutions that make it possible for people and machines to interact. Linde is creating one of these solutions. It’s called OptiPick and is still in development, but will soon be ready for its market launch.
It’s amazing to watch, thanks to its fluid handling and simple changeover from manual to automatic mode.
What is OptiPick and how does it work?
A colleague – one of the team responsible for developing the system – was nice enough to demonstrate it for me. As noted, it’s almost ready to be launched which means the odd technical detail or two might still be changed. At the moment it consists of a control unit – a computerised cuff – that the operator wears on their arm. The complete solution also includes the order picker N20, which communicates wirelessly with the cuff.
The different ways the system can be used:
- The operator simply touches the cuff, thereby sending a command to the N20 which begins moving on its own. It proceeds parallel to the rack, covering exactly 2.80 metres, the length of a standard racking unit. Naturally a different distance can be programmed into the system. The truck stops after exactly 2.80 metres. The operator takes the package out of the rack and puts it next to the other items on the truck. Touching the cuff again causes the vehicle to drive to its next position. The key advantage of the system immediately becomes clear: the operator no longer needs to walk back and forth between the truck and the storage rack. The vehicle stays “obediently” at the operator’s side. As a result, the entire process is not awkward and lurching, but flexible and fluid.
- This time the operator tapped the control unit twice. That tells the N20 to skip one pallet and cover twice its normal distance, or 5.60 metres.
- If the operator needs to move to a rack located further away, all they have to do is maintain pressure on the cuff. The truck will continue moving until the operator tells it to stop by tapping the cuff again. It couldn’t be simpler – or more responsive.
- Tap – move – pick – tap – move – pick. That’s the magic formula.
- The operator can take control of the vehicle manually at any time simply by getting in as they normally would and beginning to steer. The shift from automatic to manual mode happens without any special commands or complex manoeuvres. All you do is climb in and start driving. Then get out, pick up an order, tap the cuff and send the N20 to its next stop. The video shows how smooth the whole process is.
- If an object or person is in the N20’s path while it’s moving, the vehicle will automatically stop thanks to sensors installed in the front that monitor a 180-degree area around the vehicle. The system is so intelligent that the vehicle will even drive around smaller obstacles. The truck also senses when it is at the end of a rack and it automatically remains in place in order to avoid moving into an area with cross-traffic. The system can also be programmed so the vehicle moves closer to or farther from the rack. The minimum distance is 55 centimetres.
I only have one question: When will Linde Material Handling be offering a miniaturised system for use at home?