© Martin Wagenhan

“We’re surfing the 4.0 wave”

It comes when called, finds the shortest path to its desti­na­tion, and connects with its fellow modules: the factory runabout KARIS PRO. 12 indus­trial and research part­ners are devel­oping it. Project manager Andreas Trenkle from the Karl­sruhe Insti­tute of Tech­nology tells us about its chances.

Mr. Trenkle, who needs a flex­ible trans­port system like KARIS?

Anyone who needs more flex­i­bility for in-house trans­port. Auto­mated logis­tics systems are not only expen­sive, they’re also inflex­ible and getting them up and running costs lots of time and money. So today many trans­ports are still done by hand with dollies, stackers or milk run trains. KARIS PRO plans its routes on its own and trans­ports its cargo to its desti­na­tion autonomously.

Is anybody already using your modules?

We’re starting two pilot projects now. In Audi R8 produc­tion at its Quattro supplier, five KARIS modules get parts from the ware­house. A module drives under a box containing all of the parts needed for a certain produc­tion step, docks with it, and brings it to the assembly site at the correct time. If an entire pallet has to be trans­ported, four modules combine to form a single unit.

At Bosch Diesel Systems, our modules trans­port parts from different produc­tion areas to and from a measuring room. It’s a big area extending over two build­ings. A tow train used to do the job, making its rounds according to a schedule. Now our module comes when it’s needed and chooses the best route by itself. A taxi instead of a train, you could say. The advan­tage is that the workers get their mate­rials sooner.

How do the modules know what they’re supposed to do?

Workers enter the orders on a tablet. All modules are informed via WLAN and nego­tiate among them­selves about which of them will carry out an order; there’s no central­ized control. Then the module with the shortest path to the desti­na­tion and enough battery power takes the job. The KARIS PRO could also get its jobs directly from an SAP system or from RFID tags on the boxes instead of from manu­ally entered jobs.

How do you ensure that your modules don’t bump into the shins of produc­tion staff?

KARIS PRO has a safety laser scanner that contin­u­ously sweeps the area in front of it — a sort of eye. With data from that, it can detect obsta­cles and drive around them. If an object such as a walking person is on a colli­sion course, the module will stop imme­di­ately. The complex drive units monitor them­selves constantly, checking the speed and posi­tion of the steering drives. So the module always knows how fast it’s going and in what direc­tion. If it ever has to drive back­wards, the drive’s motor currents are used for tactile detec­tion of colli­sions. The drive notices as soon as it encoun­ters an obstacle and then brakes imme­di­ately. This way we don’t need addi­tional sensors.

What’s next for KARIS?

Things will really get inter­esting when our modules are used in a flex­ible produc­tion envi­ron­ment with machines that commu­ni­cate with KARIS and tell it, “Bring me this, take that over there.” KARIS PRO should be able to deal with the dynamics and fluc­tu­a­tion of such a situ­a­tion. We’re in discus­sions with busi­nesses about indus­tri­al­izing and marketing KARIS PRO.

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