Ceiling scanners will help to prevent factory-floor collisions
Collisions between forklifts, AGVs (automatic guided vehicles) and other mobile industrial equipment can be costly, not only in terms of damage to the equipment, but also in disrupted production.
Danaher Motion has therefore teamed up with a US company, Sky-Trax, to offer what they claim is "the world’s first indoor collision avoidance system for industrial vehicles". The system keeps track of vehicles such as forklifts and AGVs and warns about potential collisions before they can cause possible injuries or lost production.
The system, developed by Sky-Trax, uses vision sensors on board each vehicle to track the vehicle’s position by looking at an array of accurately positioned markers mounted on the factory ceiling. Machine vision software decodes the images to determine the vehicle’s position to "inch accuracy". The system also provides information on the vehicle’s speed and heading (angular orientation).
The tracking system is not affected by the height of the ceiling, or by radio interference. No triangulation is involved – one marker is sufficient to obtain a precise position.
The data is transmitted wirelessly to a navigation system called the IPS (Indoor Positioning System) which broadcasts each vehicle’s position to others, and can warn forklift drivers or AGV navigation systems of potential collisions.
The information can also be used by real-time despatch and routing software to optimise the movements of forklifts. Sky-Trax reckons that this could lead to a productivity improvement of ±30% and, in many factories, could reduce the number of forklifts needed. The savings could be considerable – in the US, for example, the annual cost of operating a forklift is reckoned to be around $300,000.
Sky-Trax says that even larger savings will be possible when an enhanced version of the software that can track the pallets carried by each vehicle, becomes available later this year. This will relieve forklift drivers of the need to scan barcodes on each pallet and will allow them to concentrate on driving.
Under their joint agreement, Sky-Trax and Danaher Motion will align their technologies and marketing efforts. "We look forward to introducing this technology as a means of enhancing operations in mixed manned and unmanned environments," explains Jonas Ralm, director of engineering for Danaher Motion.
"We believe the global reach of the Danaher Motion brand and their leadership in driving innovation, makes them the ideal technology partner for utilising IPS technology in materials-handling safety applications," adds Sky-Trax president, Larry Mahan.