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Artificial Intelligence drives smart forklift

07 June 2018

A newcomer to the forklift world is a highlight automated model from German industrial group ZF, which is best known as a car parts maker.

ZF links intelligent mechanical systems with digital solutions. This enables ZF to offer attractive industrial technology products, such as the Innovation Forklift – a highly automated and  networked forklift truck – which was launched at Hannover Messe.

This is the first time the company has transferred the technology that supports its motto see. think. act. to a materials handling application. The company says its has embraced current megatrends ensuring greater efficiency and safety while lowering operating costs.

The trucks is equipped with camera and radar systems that enable it to see its surrounding environment. The data that these systems generate are analysed by the ZF ProAI central computer, which is based on an artificial intelligence software that has already been proven in other prototype vehicles modelled on passenger cars and tractors. Intelligent actuating elements – such as the ZF electric rear axle steering for forklift trucks – and the electric ZF single-wheel drive carry out the control unit's given commands.

The truck completes work orders by independently going to the storage location, picking up the goods and delivering them to the customer. Equipped with a powerful electric drive and featuring a lifting capacity of up to 3.5 tons, the ZF Innovation Truck is coming well within range of the diesel-operated forklift trucks broadly used outdoors; and it generates zero emissions, says the firm.

ZF supplies the purely electric drive as a system solution and has streamlined the forklift truck’s energy management so that it can hold a battery charge for at least one shift. This means that operators do not have to have as many replacement batteries on hand and can therefore reduce costs considerably. 

Intelligent object and pedestrian detection is a safety bonus when the vehicle is in operation.

The ZF Innovation Forklift sensors record people or stationary objects such as pallet cages or simply pallets. The data interpreted in the ZF ProAI central control unit results in a corresponding command that tells the vehicle to either stop or drive around the obstacle. Deep learning algorithms help to anticipate the great variety of potential scenarios in high speed and then trigger adequate reactions.

The vehicle can also prioritise orders itself and thus make decisions regarding the optimal sequence and route. An essential factor in this is how the ZF Innovation Forklift is networked. It can operate in a digitalised production network and there communicate both with the materials management system, infrastructure and other vehicles. The cloud-based, dynamic fleet management allows the data from the individual forklift trucks to be efficiently managed and analysed. The system takes into account, for example, the current battery charge status during all driving operations and schedules the recharge time at which the forklift truck should independently head toward the charging station.

When looking at the issues of data management and data analytics, in particular, networking the most diverse systems to one IoT platform is an essential cornerstone for industrial technology in the future. The ZF Cloud is an open, scalable IoT platform that can be flexibly used across many industries. It offers the option of collecting data and analysing it in real time using the analysis tools and also networking with a large number of individual functions and participants.

“We are already playing a leading role when it comes to highly automated and autonomous driving – and that also includes industrial technology. It is no longer just about launching outstanding solutions that offer customers major benefits on the market. It's about speed. The ZF innovation teams have proven this here in Hanover with their new products,“ says ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider. “The highly automated ZF Innovation Forklift is the result of bundled know-how to create a unique and comprehensive solution that essentially embraces the main requirements of the industry: reducing costs and making materials handling processes far more efficient.”