Designed to move relatively light loads around a factory or warehouse without the need for a driver, a new automated guided vehicle (AGV) was launched by E&K AUTOMATION at the IMHX show this year (16 – 19 November 2010).
From the ECO Z range of tow tractors, the new ECO ZM4 is a low-cost, highly compact and manoeuvrable vehicle that is particularly suitable for delivering component kits or parts to automotive assembly lines where space is severely limited. Along with its bigger brother, the ZF3, the ECO ZM4 it is just as relevant to applications in other industries as well.
Parts are typically carried on a wheeled trolley, frame or kanban rack, which would conventionally have been pushed by hand or towed by a driver-operated truck. Now the transport is driverless, with the ECO Z AGV simply latching itself into the underside of the trolley and towing it to all of its destinations, rather than lifting and carrying it.
The ECO ZM4 can follow an inductive guide wire set into the floor, a tape laid on top of it, or can even use optical, magnet point or wall contour guidance.
Whilst the bigger ECO ZF3 would typically drive forwards along its tracks, a distinctive feature of the ZM4 is that it can move forwards, backwards, sideways and diagonally to maximise manoeuvrability and minimise travel times.
The on-board vehicle control and central fleet control for the ECO Z range come from the E&K SYSTEM 300 family of products and are supported by the TrackDesigner300 layout tool for quick and easy layout design.
SYSTEM 300 is also a new product that has been specifically developed by E&K to reduce the planning and commissioning costs of AGV systems and to deliver high industrial quality for a low price through the use of standard components.
Transport instructions for the ECO ZM4 are sent from the central controller via a wireless link, telling the vehicles when and where to travel. Simplicity is a key characteristic, typified by the one-piece PLC (programmable logic controller) on board the AGV and the same for the central controller, which acts as the fleet manager. Noteworthy also is the use of an absorbed glass mat battery, which has high specific power and can be charged rapidly without gassing.
IMHX 2010 success
Peter Holdcroft, managing director of E&K AUTOMATION Ltd, UK subsidiary of the German AGV system manufacturer, commented, "We recorded some very useful sales leads during the show, many from leading firms in the automotive, off-road, personal care, publishing, air conditioning and distribution sectors.
"Particularly pleasing were the approaches from new companies we have not spoken to before and, in a couple of instances, contacts that we had had dealings with in the past were refreshed".
"It seems that the show was well timed to capitalise on rising optimism in the market generally, with people preparing for the upturn by looking at automation to raise capacity without necessarily increasing staff levels and costs."