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Those who rest will rust

Back in the mid-1990s, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) were totally new. Even if the latest models are technologically more sophisticated, 'Hugo' has done very well over the last 22 years and remains a highly reliable 'colleague'.


Paint producer Meffert, headquartered in Saxony in eastern Germany, has been operating two driverless industrial trucks made by Egemin for over 20 years and they work as well today as they did when they first were put into operation. For KION Group, however, simply knowing that the two vehicles continue to run is not enough. For some time now, the focus has been on developing cutting-edge solutions that are exceptionally resource-efficient.

‘Hugo’ has been operating for 22 years now without a single incident. “When he turned 18, we joked that only then was he allowed to operate on his own!” says Roland Barth, giving 'Hugo' an affectionate glance. “Of course, he has been a trusty assistant since that very first day.” Barth is the operations manager at Meffert AG, a paint producer in Ostrau, a town in the German state of Saxony. And 'Hugo' is the company’s pet name for its two driverless industrial vehicles made by Egemin. Despite having reached a ripe old age for their generation of AGVs, the two are still as capable as ever.

The facility in eastern Germany was the most modern paint factory when it first opened in 1992 on had previously been open countryside. In 1996, the company took a progressive step when it decided to procure two AGVs, a technology that had only come on the market in the late 1980s. Since then, the two man-sized crimson vehicles have been working in a 2-shift operation, transporting pallets full of paint containers and cans to the warehouse's 12 filling stations. Every day, they move between 40 and 50 metric tons of product.

"If the two AGV's ever broke down, we would have a real problem on our hands."

Roland Barth

Always on the move

Operating virtually noiselessly and at a brisk walking pace, they seamlessly blend into the background. The 75 employees at the site are quite used to working with their two 'Hugos', and have even been known to give them an occasional friendly pat on the back. “The benefit of using driverless vehicles is that they not only eliminate the need for a forklift operator to trek monotonously back and forth between the pick-up point and warehouse,” says Barth, adding, “but they are also extremely safe.” If someone gets in the way of the AGVs, they’ll stop. The two 'Hugos' have been operating nearly 100,000 hours combined without a single incident.

“Longevity is what makes our driverless transport systems unique,” says a proud Thomas Kaminski, Dematic’s vice president for Mobile Automation. He was previously the CEO at Egemin North America before it became part of the new KION brand, Dematic. “A compact and robust design, a long-life battery, superior electromechanical components and regular software updates have made it possible for them to run for over 20 years and counting,” explains Kaminski.

“If the two AGVs ever broke down, we would have a real problem on our hands,” admits Barth. “We would then have to quickly bring in a forklift and an operator as a replacement.” But the operations manager has little reason to worry. The trucks are serviced annually and the transmissions were replaced as recently as 2016. At some point, of course, Barth will have to think about a general upgrade since it is now just the facility’s elder statesmen who are familiar with the old BOS operating system and it would not be that much cheaper than purchasing new equipment.

"What can I say except that we are tech nerds!"

Thomas Kaminski

New, sustainable and flexible

Naturally, Dematic would be ready and waiting with fresh solutions. So much has changed over the last 20 years in the now indispensable world of AGVs. Customers have become more demanding. They want trucks that are easy to use and can be rapidly deployed. While Meffert’s 'Hugos' still operate on induction tracks - they are part of a fixed system - the latest vehicles navigate freely using laser sensors. This is essential for e-commerce giants such as Amazon, and Alibaba, who need to transport smaller, individual orders rather than entire pallets. Indeed, online retail is now a trending market in its own right.

Demand for customized trucks is growing as is the demand for hybrid drives that can be converted from manual to automatic control and vice versa. Kaminski’s global teams have made it a reality. For some time now, they have been supplying high-tech truck models – electric, so no emissions, and equipped with the latest safety technology – which help customers gain a competitive edge and operate sustainably. And they also have given their new automated systems nicknames; they call the two software solutions where the trucks operate, "Atom" and "Ion". “What can I say except that we are tech nerds!” exclaims a smiling Kaminski.


More haste, less speed


'Hugo' at work in the factory.


Once the containers are on the pallet, the industrial truck takes over.


Automated guided vehicle systems score highly for power and endurance...


This has been demonstrated over almost 100,000 operating hours.


New guided vehicles will provide the option to switch between manual and automated control.


Easy to operate and flexible in their use – the next generation of automated guided vehicle systems will address the growing requirements in plants and warehouses.