AGVR makes autonomous tractor safe for outdoor applications
The latest automated AGVR tractors combine the best of both worlds. At the heart of the high end AGV solution is a rugged tractor of the globally renowned Spijkstaal brand which the AGVR engineers from Barendrecht in the Netherlands have equipped with all the necessary sensors and software to enable the tractor to now automated find its way around. The outdoorScan3 safety laser scanners from SICK are the safety eyes of the tractor. These are the first scanners in the world to be certified according to the new IEC TS 62998-1 standard.
“Spijkstaal and AGVR are working exclusively with one another”, explains Wim Luijendijk, Managing Director Sales. “Whenever Spijkstaal receives an inquiry about an automated tractor, they turn to us for assistance. And when we receive this kind of inquiry, we get in touch with Spijkstaal. Quality is of crucial importance to both companies. It needs to be good. Everything we deliver must function for ten years and be able to be maintained for ten years.”
“At first we developed three-wheel tractors with a pulling capacity of 4 to 10 tons as a kind of standard solution. Until a large automotive customer got in touch with us. He wanted a tractor that could pull 20 tons and be able to drive up a wet ramp outdoors. A competitor suggested a tractor with a 25-ton pulling capacity, but when a tractor of their design drives down the ramp there’s really no way of stopping it. Together with Spijkstaal, we therefore offered them a 40-ton truck.”
SICK keeps its promise: safety laser scanners for outdoor applications
Wim Luijendijk still faced a further challenge with the 40-ton tractor: how can safety be guaranteed in an outdoor environment? “At first there were no certified safety scanners for outdoor applications. Up until then we had been avoiding this issue by using safety bumpers and ultrasonic sensors, but that solution was far from ideal. Customers continue to ask themselves how a Tesla can drive autonomously. When our contact person at SICK mentioned on one of his visits that SICK was working on safety laser scanners for outdoor applications, we immediately expressed our interest in it. And SICK kept its promise. This outdoor scanner does the job”, says Luijendijk.
Luijendijk and his team also faced a challenge in regard to navigation: “We have always used RF tags, which we integrated into the floor. We were then able to determine the exact route based on the data from the reader under the tractor. The indoor areas in this application, however, consist of steel floors. And the customer was not that keen on having RF tags in the floor. Fortunately, SICK was able to help us with its NAV3xx 2D LiDAR sensor. It also does a great job outdoors.”
Ground clearance and braking force
Besides the high-performance scanning technology, the latest tractor from AGVR also comes with further special features. Luijendijk summarizes: “It copes with virtually any type of surface, whether it be asphalt, gravel, wood, concrete or steel plates. And thanks to its good suspension, it has a large ground clearance, so the ground doesn’t need to be level and traction is guaranteed.”
The AGVR solution uses a non-braked trailer. The entire braking force needs to be provided by the tractor. “We made a conscious decision to use only engine braking. This can be adjusted precisely. Mechanical brakes often function perfectly during the first month, and problems start to arise after that. Then you need to figure out how to eliminate those problems. AGVR also delivers an intelligent fleet manager for the four autonomous tractors. This software determines which vehicle is assigned the next logistics task”, says Luijendijk.
The autonomous tractors from AGVR are also “hybrids”. The Managing Director Sales adds: “They can be manually controlled if required, whereby the mode of operation is selected by means of a switch. The tractors come with a fully functional driver cabin with all the driver conveniences. You can also drive the tractor on the road because it is equipped with an illumination system for use on public roads.”
Ten years of safety
Luijendijk and SICK have been working together for many years: “We are on the same wavelength. SICK delivers professional products and the support is good. What’s also important to us is that when we build something, it’s got to work for at least ten years at the customer’s site. The relevant spare parts therefore also need to be available for ten years. SICK makes that possible.”
“Sometimes my colleagues nevertheless want to purchase parts online. But when I ask them whether the lower-priced supplier can continue to supply the same components over a period of ten years, we soon return to SICK. And with this new safety laser scanner for outdoor applications from SICK, the choice was already clear. We had been waiting so long for a solution like this. It surprised me that SICK would be the first to come up with it.
Future: cost savings of up 60 percent
When asked about the company’s future plans, Luijendijk revealed that they will be bringing the new autonomous tractors on the market in the near future. “It’s an attractive and mature product. I have been in so many different types of factories over the years. While doing so, I have noticed how often logistics still takes second place. If you replace all those manned forklift trucks by our new tractors, you can save up to 60% on costs. We have a proven track record in this.”
The autonomous tractors with a pulling capacity of 40 tons are equipped, amongst other things, with the following solutions from SICK:
outdoorScan3: Two safety laser scanners, each with a 270-degree field of view, monitor the driving path of the tractor.
NAV3xx: This 2D LiDAR sensor is used for navigation.
TiM: A 2D LiDAR sensor above the field of view of the safety laser scanners prevents collisions with higher objects such as manned forklift truck forks and ceiling cranes; two TiM 2D LiDAR sensors monitor the sides and ensure that the tractor comes to a stop if someone approaches it.
Ultrasonic: The ultrasonic sensor at the rear checks whether or not the trailer is present; action can be taken immediately if a trailer is lost.
Flexi Soft: The safety signals from all scanners are processed by a Flexi Soft safety controller; the FX3-MOC Flexi Soft Safe Motion Controller ensures safe monitoring of the speeds associated with the speed-dependent field switchovers in the scanners.