For two years the team worked on it: the proANT 016 AGV Stacklifter. Now, this new transport robot is ready to be delivered to its first customers. InSystems Automation celebrated this premiere and introduces the team behind its development.
The Stacklifter for SLC stacks – autonomous and entirely without passing station
InSystems celebrates the Stacklifter and congratulates the team, and the transport robot’s next stage of development was introduced with a demonstration and a glass of champagne. After its design and construction, the Stacklifter prototype is now able to detect any given number of boxes that were placed on the floor using its laser scanner at its back. This allows it to then pick them up and transport them autonomically, as all proANT robots do, and automatically manage all storage areas on the floor.
With the Stacklifter’s detection algorithm, it is also possible to detect the position of pallets or other transport containers. This will prove useful for other proANT transport robots in the future.
The construction and algorithm development for the Stacklifter are both the impressive achievements of two students, who each worked on this project for their Masters thesis and will now, after their graduation, stay with InSystems.
The proANT Stacklifter is a unique invention. Usually, transport robots pick up their loads only at passing stations, but the Stacklifter was developed to lift stacks and crates directly from the floor. It is able to identify them even if they are not positioned evenly and automatically picks them up. The stacks’ exact alignment is detected via laser scanner and the Stacklifter will navigate autonomously to approach its load just right to pick it up in its holding compartment.
This vehicle is meant to allow the simple creation of inexpensive and flexible storage areas and production buffers directly within the production site. The Stacklifter is, as all proANT-robots are, safe to use around humans and can thus be implemented to work side by side with employees.
A success to be celebrated
As is the case with any prototype, it took time to develop the Stacklifter. Over the span of two years, it was planned, constructed, programmed and tested. Now, on the 20th of July 2018, InSystems celebrated its completion with a company-wide information and demonstration event. Within the foyer of InSystems’ new office, the vehicle could be observed as it reliably navigated and positioned itself towards the SLCs it was to pick up. This display was met by all with a round of applause, as well as some champagne to clink glasses with.
A great team
Designing engineer Kristof
“I’m proud of this.”, says Kristof, who was the first to create a full concept of the Stacklifter for his Masters thesis almost one year ago. “Working on this project was a valuable time for me. The development of all the mechanics were left to me – that creates a lot of experience.”
Today, Kristof is one of InSystems’ designing engineers after he was hired directly after finishing his degree. The final creation of the Stacklifter long seemed like it would belong in the distant future. “There were three main steps.”, he explains. “First, I designed all the mechanics. There was already a lot of cooperation between different departments at that point, as there was a lot of input in terms of different ideas as to how to best put this vehicle together from step one. Then, there was a period where I didn’t have much to do with the project while the electrical engineering team worked on the second step, that is, installing all the necessary electronic systems. And then, for the third step, Daniele came in and brought the robot to life with his programming.”
It was a long-term project with many testing phases. Was it fun to keep tinkering with it all for this long?
“Tinkering is a good word for it.”, Kristof says. “Yes, absolutely, and there’s really a great working atmosphere here. Everyone is easy to work together and communicate with, which is important. All those who worked on this project had their ideas and wishes to make the construction design and its electronics fit together as well as possible from the very beginning. It was all teamwork, and no one here would ever say anything else. I had to change a few things around for Daniele too, to make the robot drive the way it’s supposed to.”
Software engineer Daniele
Daniele – that is the one who programmed the algorithm for the Stacklifter’s container detection features. Born in Italy, he now writes his Masters thesis at InSystems too and has just received the offer to stay with the organisation after he graduates.
“I learned so much and I’m very happy with how everything turned out.”, he says during his interview. “It really does feel good when you’re just out of college and immediately get to work on a big project like this. That’s an opportunity not everyone gets.”
There were several milestones for him to accomplish during his work on the project, such as the development of a concept as to how the robot should best interpret its scanner’s data, developing a detection algorithm for it to identify the containers it is meant to transport and and finally the motion planning for the vehicle. Added to that were several requirements from different sources, for example things that needed adjusting to better fit possible customer’s needs. Keeping on top of all this wasn’t always easy, but: “I had great support. There was always someone I could ask if I needed advice, everyone was always open for questions. The working atmosphere here was really good, and that definitely helped me with my learning.”
Originally, Daniele found his way to InSystems thanks to a professor at his university, who had a contact with the organisation. Then, he simply meant to finish his studies here – now, he plans on staying even after he receives his degree. “I’ll be working in research and development.”, he says. “There’ll be a lot of new projects for me, and maybe I’ll also keep developing the Stacklifter further.”
Both Kristof and Daniele made their way to this organisation as students, but stay as fully-fledged co-workers and employees. After all, InSystems is always interested in supporting and offering opportunities to young talents. The Stacklifter was their first large project – but it is certainly not going to be the last.