Linde MH EMEA buys start-up Comnovo

Beyond safety

The KION Group has secured access to a new technology that solves a plethora of occupational safety problems in one fell swoop. From now on, the assistance system shall be marketed and developed by Linde MH EMEA, which has been bolstered by the coup that is the acquisition of the start-up Comnovo.



Warehouses no longer need to be dangerous places. In Germany alone, there were over 30,000 notifiable occupational accidents relating to industrial trucks in 2015, according to the German Statutory Accident Insurance—and even one accident is one too many. A system that reliably warns pedestrians and trucks of each others’ presence is therefore highly sought after. “There are a handful of solutions on the market,” says Alexandra Mertel, Process Manager Linde Robotics, “but so far none of them have really worked properly.”

This is due to most of the systems relying on visual contact, which is how sensors on forklift trucks detect people. “But often the buildings have changed over time, developing labyrinthine twists and turns, or an aisle is located directly behind a door,” Mertel continues. And transmission technology poses difficulties too: Ultrasound does not go through walls; WLAN interferes with other data networks. Plus, the systems warn pedestrians from all sides, instantly plunging them into sensory overload. “Individuals are rarely run over at the side of the truck,” Mertel points out.

Ultra-Broadband Positioning

The start-up Comnovo has found a single solution to all of the problems. Developed by founder Andreas Lewandowski, the assistance system operates using ultra-broadband, allowing it to function reliably in any building without disrupting other networks. Due to its high frequency of at least four gigahertz, the system can individually penetrate doors and walls. “And it is really simple to install in an existing fleet,” adds Mertel. This was reason enough for Linde MH EMEA to acquire the 15-strong start-up—a bold step that is none too common, but which fits perfectly as a building block for the holistic safety strategy of the Operating Unit.

The start-up Comnovo was founded by Andreas Lewandowski (outside left), Dominik Gerstel (front row, second from left) and Volker Köster (back row, third from right) and came about as the result of a research project at the Department of Communications Networks at the Technical University of Dortmund.

In fact, Mertel’s team also had to fend off interest from elsewhere too. The fact that Operating Unit President Andreas Krinninger was personally involved played no small part in the founder Lewandowski’s decision to opt for Linde MH EMEA and the KION Group: “Mr Krinninger showed an interest not only in the product, but also in us as the people behind it,” confides Lewandowski. This left a lasting impression, as did Linde MH EMEA’s broad, high-performance sales network. As Mertel points out, KION Group CTO Eike Böhm also played a key role in the acquisition, which goes to show that the KION Group sees a lot of potential in Comnovo’s technology.

Building Blocks for Industry 4.0

“We have continuously developed products and innovations using a holistic approach. From our perspective, safety is an innovative field,” states Florian Heydenreich, Head of the Dealer Network and Key Account Germany. “With Comnovo, we will strengthen our range of services in order to provide our customer with comprehensive process optimization in all things safety.” In other words, Comnovo is an important building block in the Operating Unit’s overall safety strategy.

But it goes further than that, too: Indoor positioning could in future be used for a wide range of other applications, as the product’s inventor Lewandowski, who shall continue to manage product development as Managing Director, affirms: “Before long, the system will also be able to optimize routes and identify the closest truck for a desired action or the most convenient place for a battery charging station.” Everything pertaining to Industry 4.0 and networking requires exact positioning, and Comnovo’s invention could deliver exactly that.

A Refreshing Start-Up Mentality

“The start-up mentality will inspire us and synergies will arise within various sectors in the CTO Organization,” says Alexandra Mertel, who is very optimistic about the prospect of further development: “We have managed to grab the inspiration of 250 very different people from Sales,” she says. “Comnovo’s product is really good, and a perfect fit for us.” And it is a win-win across the board: Linde MH EMEA expands its range of safety solutions, the KION Group gains an important building block for Industry 4.0, and Comnovo benefits from a larger sales network.