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KiSoft Automove laser guided forklift trucks from KNAPP show significant gains for grocery retailers

Automated warehousing specialist KNAPP has clocked up three successful installations of its KiSoft AUTOMOVE laser-guided forklift truck solution. All three systems were provided to major grocery retailers – one in Austria, one in Slovenia and one in Sweden – and are showing significant efficiency gains for the clients concerned.

With order picking accounting for up to 50% of a typical DC’s labour costs and travel accounting for a massive 50% of a picker’s time in manual applications, it’s clear that traditional order picking is driving-intensive and results in poor utilisation of the picker. Automation can eliminate the non-productive steps in the manual picking process.

Driverless transport
KiSoft AUTOMOVE from KNAPP allows both pre- and post-pick transport to be fully automated. With this solution, standard low-level order picking trucks are equipped with a package of laser navigation, automatic control unit and safety sensors – essentially becoming automated guided vehicles (AGVs). This enables each truck to undertake long driving tasks – such as collecting empty pallets and delivering picked loads to the dispatch area – on its own. Between these lone transport tasks, the truck escorts the picker automatically to the required pick locations. Fork height can be adjusted during the picking tour to ease the placement of goods onto the pallet and this is done manually or – if product volume information is available – automatically. The control system takes care of order management, route planning, traffic control, navigation, system monitoring and user interfaces.

Successful installations
In the KiSoft AUTOMOVE solution delivered to SPAR in St Pölten, Austria, in August 2009, four AGVs are used to transport three roll cages of picked goods at a time for the distance of 125 metres from the picking area to the marshalling lanes. The system works efficiently and safely, despite having significant levels of manual forklift traffic operating in the same aisles during peak periods. The AGVs move at a speed of 1.5 m/s in forward operation and 1.0 m/s in reverse, allowing orders to be processed quickly.

At the distribution centre in Celje for the Slovenian grocery chain TUS, KiSoft AUTOMOVE AGVs not only undertake long transport tasks, they also automatically escort the picker, who is equipped with pick-by-voice technology, to the required pick locations. Use of the AGVs ensures that staff focus on the task of picking, with the voice system boosting productivity further by allowing the use of both hands – voice solutions typically show an increase in picking performance over paper picking of up to 35% and over handheld scanner operations of up to 15%.

Rapid ROI
Says Craig Rollason, Head of Sales and Marketing for KNAPP UK Ltd, "The benefits of KiSoft AUTOMOVE are wide-ranging but the economic argument is compelling. The solution can result in increases in productivity of up to 100% when used in the picking process. With a return on investment of one to two years, the solution is proving very attractive to companies seeking to sweat their assets in the economic downturn – especially 3PLs, whose contracts are becoming ever shorter."

KiSoft AUTOMOVE allows labour to be deployed flexibly, with the trucks still available for use in manual mode, if required, and with the system’s layout simple to change using user-friendly software tools. An additional benefit for clients is that pickers no longer require a truck licence – as they walk rather than ride – which results in savings in training and labour costs. With optimal positioning of the truck to ensure shorter carrying distances and pickers walking rather than driving, the solution is ergonomic too.

Lower lifetime costs
Adds Craig Rollason, "Clients benefit not only from improved picking accuracy and optimised routes through the warehouse, but also reduced damage to trucks, racking and goods through automatic driving. Of course, consistently smooth driving has an impact on lifetime costs too, with reduced energy consumption, lower maintenance costs and vehicle service life doubled."

Due to the ease with which trucks can be converted and laser reflectors installed, clients benefit from fast implementation, with projects typically lasting less than 6 months from start to finish. Of course, implementation can take place during normal warehouse operations, minimising disruption.

KNAPP’s KiSoft AUTOMOVE is suitable for almost all makes and models of low-level warehouse truck and is also being developed for reach trucks, VNA trucks and possibly counterbalance trucks.

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