© Huazh Intralogistics Technology

Autonomous shuttles for the warehouse

Huazh Intralogistics Technology Co. Ltd. develops systems for automated warehouse logistics. Speed is the most important factor for the company, based in Nanjing, China.

Endless lines of shelves, meter-high rows, conveyor belts, spiral chutes, and above all: goods as far as the eye can see. The prospect of someone having to find something in this labyrinth, having to wander through the aisles, all the while imagining customers drumming their fingers impatiently on the table, is unthinkable. Huazh Intralogistics Technology’s solutions for warehouses and distribution centers ensure that this nightmare does not become a reality.

The pace in these places is now too fast for humans to achieve on their own. A pace that is not possible without automation. Huazh is driving it forward. Its expertise is based on five core areas: warehouse logistics planning, warehouse information systems, conveyor systems, automated systems for storing and retrieving piece goods and small items, and semi-automatic and fully automatic picking systems. At the heart of the system are the shuttles, which whiz through the warehouse on rails and independently pick up and unload goods. The company, which is an offshoot of the University of Nanjing, has been developing them for almost 20 years.

Huazh started developing shuttles for warehouses almost 20 years ago. To maintain its pole position, the company now relies on drive systems from ebm-papst. (Photo | Huazh Intralogistics Technology)

Compact speedster

“This area is very promising and has grown rapidly in recent years,” says Liu Feng. The R&D team leader at Huazh is responsible for the shuttles. “The key features of the shuttles are their small size and high speed — which saves lots of space and speeds up the picking and unloading of goods,” says Feng.

The key features of the shuttles are their small size and high speed.

Liu Feng, R&D team leader at Huazh

To improve the latest generation of shuttles, which looks just like a red sports car, Huazh decided to switch from AC to DC motors and enlisted the support of ­ebm-papst. “We chose ebm-papst due to its high-quality products and excellent local service,” says Feng. For various shuttle designs from Huazh, ebm-papst supplies the complete drive systems: brushless internal rotor motors from the ECI series, transmission, encoder, and electronics. ebm-papst supplies both the hardware and the software. The drive systems make the shuttle move forward on the rails, move the telescopic arm that grips the boxes of goods, and lift the boxes.

Agile team

For the system to be perfectly matched to the application, you need a team that works well together. ebm-papst service engineer Donny Tang took care of the implementation on site and spent a lot of time in the Huazh test lab making all the necessary adjustments. But Feng also actively exchanged ideas with ebm-papst sales representative Tyrese Wu and team leader Mike Tang. His summary: “We held together and worked as a team.”

The greatest challenge with the shuttle project was, of course, the speed. Huazh gives itself only four to six weeks to deliver shuttles to its customers after receipt of the order. This also has an impact on its partner. ebm-papst talked to its own suppliers, set up new logistics concepts, and brought its internal Supply Chain Improvement team on board. As Feng acknowledges, “ebm-papst responds quickly, enables a rapid exchange of information, and provides a buffer stock of components.” 


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