The global site of the UK's leading magazine for automation, motion engineering and power transmission
23 May, 2024

Twitter link

Cobot pallet-mover could boost throughput by 45%

29 March, 2022

Two US companies – the material-handling automation specialist Vecna Robotics and the pedestrian lift truck manufacturer Big Joe Forklifts – have joined forces to develop a cobot (collaborative robot) pallet mover that will bring human-assisted robotics to smaller warehouses and manufacturing sites with labour-intensive workflows that, they say, have previously been ignored by other forms of robotic automation. The partners claim that simulations and field tests have shown improvements in throughput of up to 45% over relying on human workers alone.

Their “user-directed” pallet movers can transport loads of up to 1,500kg and offer AMR (autonomous mobile robot) functions such as intelligent route planning and obstacle avoidance. The machines have onboard tablet computers and cloud connections. Once an operator has loaded a pallet and told the vehicle where to go, it navigates autonomously to its destination. The machines will act as “force multipliers” for workers, allowing them to focus on higher value-added work, while the robots attend to more mundane tasks.

The developers point out that there are more than five billion pallets in circulation with almost five million manual pallet jacks moving them every day. With 70% of the cost of moving those pallets being labour, they believe there is need for an autonomous material-handling technology that can handle “in-between” loads.

Vecna will be offering the technology in a version called CPJ, while Big Joe is calling its version Bud. They plan to market them later year on a Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) subscription basis costing less than $50 a day, making them easier to adopt and to deliver rapid savings without needing large capital budgets.

“Automation as we know it in material handling is about to be turned upside down by products like Bud,” predicts Big Joe Forklifts’ chief marketing officer, Bill Pedriana. “As opposed to having to do lengthy site surveys, complicated ROI calculations, and expensive implementations, the whole idea of this technology is going to flip to where the machines become so simple to deploy and low cost that the user becomes their own integrator and these items become a practical day-to-day tool for most companies.”

Vecna VEO Craig Malloy compares the development to the PC revolution, when enterprise-level technologies suddenly became accessible to everyone. “The last 18 months have driven huge demand for AMRs like autonomous forklifts, but current offerings are typically only accessible to very large facilities,” he says. “Our CPJ is a game-changer as it allows facilities of varied sizes to address their immediate labour shortages with intelligent material-handling robots. The new solution works seamlessly alongside human workers and automates a broader range of payloads, workflows, and environments that the market is not currently addressing.”

Game-changer: Vecna Robotics’ CPJ version of the autonomous pallet-mover vehicle that it has developed with Big Joe Forklifts

The vehicles can be configured to carry a variety of pallets, carts, racks, bins and other payloads. An optional attachment allows the Bud to be fitted with a tow hitch, shelves, custom fixtures, or a simple deck to function as a jack of all trades. The vehicles can switch seamlessly between autonomous and manual control, while swappable lithium batteries provide operational flexibility.

The lidar object-sensing technology used in the vehicles has been supplied by Quanergy Systems. “The time to democratise automation in material-handling is now,” declares Quanergy CMO, Enzo Signore. “This technology has long been exclusive to early adopters or those in select industries with large budgets for innovation. In collaboration with Vecna Robotics, we have a unique opportunity to deliver a true cobot solution to help companies overcome dire labour shortage issues with technology that can be immediately deployed, virtually out-of-the-box.”

Vecna RoboticsTwitter  LinkedIn  Facebook

Big Joe ForkliftsTwitter

  • To view a digital copy of the latest issue of Drives & Controls, click here.

    To visit the digital library of past issues, click here

    To subscribe to the magazine, click here



"Do you think that robots create or destroy jobs?"



Most Read Articles