The transport of open paint barrels has been fully automated for Bierbaum, Germany’s largest bed linen maufacturer.

ASTI InSystems developed a driverless transport system consisting of four autonomously navigating transport robots of the proANT P-series for this company. The vehicles operate within the area between paint supply and four printing machines. They transport open paint barrels with different sizes that may weigh up 100 kg, which were moved around by workers using pushcarts before.

  • Field: Textile products
  • 4 vehicles
  • different barrel sites with liquids weighing up to 100 kg

Task, Realization and Customer Benefits

The Bierbaum Unternehmensgruppe GmbH produces textiles and is one of the few companies in this industry which manages to work profitably within Germany. This is in large parts due to Bierbaum’s high level of automation within the production process.

In the production site Borken, one of the production processes is the print of patterns and designs on bed linen. The printing plant is meant to be upgraded during production upgrades. One of the key steps in this direction is the automation of the transport of paint barrels from the paint supply area, where paint is mixed, to the printing machines.

Bierbaum’s goal in using autonomous transport robots is most of all to make the production more efficient and allow employees to spend less time on non-value adding tasks.

Initial situation

The transport robots are meant to navigate between the paint supply and printing area. They should carry open paint barrels with different sizes which may weigh up to 100 kg. These barrels are supposed to be transported both when they are full and when they are empty.

Before the driverless transport system was implemented, the paint barrels were transported manually by the employees using pushcarts.

Project description

The paint barrels are picked up or loaded off by the robots at pre-determined stations with conveyor belts. To allow precise navigation for the robots, a reference panel is installed at every such station. A „hardware handshake“ between vehicle and station is also implemented to ensure that the vehicle is positioned entirely correctly. The conveyor belt will only be activated to pass on the barrel only after it is made sure that the vehicle is in the right position to receive it.

The reference panel is a triangle, which the AGV uses for fine positioning. AGVs usually have an accuracy of +/- 5 cm at their destination when driving at normal speed. This may not be precise enough for all situations. In order to ensure that the AGV stops in just the right position in front of a station, stations can be equipped with a triangle with an angle of 90° or 135°. During a so called fine positioning drive, the AGVs use then the triangle’s tip to stop in the exact set distance from the tip. With this method, they can reach an accuracy of +/- 1 cm.

A „hardware handshake“ refers to sensoric elements installed at the station and the vehicle used to perform a check. Three sensors on each installation work via lock-and-key principle and communicate with one another (receiver-sender). If the vehicle is in the right position towards the station, the roller conveyors start moving and the paint barrels are handed over.

The vehicles move fully autonomously with an average speed of 1 m/s around the hall. For comparison: a human’s average walking speed is 1.4 m/s. A SICK-laser, which is integrated in the vehicles, scans all rooms, walls and machines in order to create a map, which the vehicle uses to navigate freely within the area and reach its set destinations. The vehicles‘ communication takes place via WLAN. A fleet manager keeps track of all vehicles‘ battery status and sends them to their charging stations if necessary, where they need only stay a few minutes thanks to modern battery technology.

proANTs communicate with their fleet management, order management and among each other via WLAN. Via order management they get their transport orders. These orders can be generated and placed in different ways, depending on customer requirements.

In this case, the transport orders are created by Bierbaum’s own, already existing production software. To make this possible, an interface called AIC (AGV Interface Controller) between the production software and the AGVs was implemented. This AIC collects and coordinates transport orders and sends them to vehicles. For example, it makes sure that the robot closest to the requesting machine  is tasked the order. Furthermore, it coordinates the vehicles and prevents jams or mutual interference.

To avoid that a barrel falls and potentially endangers workers, the robots are made to be entirely safe to use around people. This means that they can operate side by side with human workers without any need for further safety precautions such as safety fences or separate transport routes. If an obstacle is detected in the vehicle’s path, it slows down and navigates around it or stops completely.

The material flow-solution using proANT transport robots made by InSystems integrates into the Bierbaum company’s -pre-existing production and could be put into operation without any constructional changes.

Customer advantages:

  • Autonomously navigating vehicles take care of the entire material flow, so that no workers need to be deployed for the transport of heavy items
  • The AGVs can be installed without any need for changes in infrastructure (e.g. reflectors)
  • Product quality and and process reliability are improved
  • Supply shortages during the production process are minimized
  • Transport orders are fulfilled in a precisely, efficiently and safely
  • Individual integration in the plant context
  • The AGV fleet is scalable, meaning that more vehicles can be added if the production increases.
  • All material movements are tracked. The material flow becomes transparent.