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Smart Intralogistics for Smart Factories: Intelligent Production Supply for Industry 4.0

When thinking about intralogistics, your mind immediately goes to the warehouse. But it’s not just storing goods, the production of those goods also presents its own unique intralogistics challenges because manufacturing processes are only as efficient as the supply of goods for those production operations. Intralogistics requirements are considerably more complex when it comes to Industry 4.0 “Smart Factories”, in which real-world and virtual processes merge together seamlessly. The KION Group is a pioneer in this field thanks to its involvement in wide-ranging research projects that are already coming up with the answers to tomorrow’s questions.


The way in which things are produced has always reflected mankind’s technological advancements and looking back, the advances that have been made are like a string of pearls: The emergence of steam and water power at the beginning of the 19th century gave us Industry 1.0 and our first taste of machinery-led mass-production. The introduction of electricity and Industry 2.0 at the beginning of the 20th century gave us new advances in assembly line production and automation. Increased automation through electronics and IT became the focus of Industry 3.0 from the 1970s onwards. And the exciting age of Industry 4.0 began at the end of the 20th century and continues to this day; we have not yet begun to scratch the surface of potential in this area.

(Intra)Logistics as the Backbone of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The core of Industry 4.0 is the intelligent networking of machines and processes within industrial operations with the help of information and communication technology. The internet is the key to everything here: Global networking beyond the company or international borders gives a new quality to the digitalization of production. That’s how the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communication, and production sites, which are becoming ever more intelligent, are ringing in a new epoch of industrial production. But the networking of all processes presents particular challenges for intralogistics.

Intelligent, flexible production supply is the backbone of a Smart Factory. For us, production supply is an incredibly important and interesting business area, particularly the production supply of the future, which also includes AI, robotics, and process control. It’s up to us to develop suitable products for these challenges and which can be perfectly integrated into a Smart Factory environment.

Dr. Patrick Erbts, Research Manager Technology & Innovation at the KION Group

He describes the ideal scenario: “In the future, all intralogistics systems and processes will be connected to production processes and will work in perfect harmony. Materials, components, and tools will be supplied at the exact time they are required by means of networked autonomous transportation vehicles that will work together with mobile order picking and handling robots.” Open interfaces and standards, and real-time wireless data transfer will guarantee complete connectivity of all systems, machines, and devices. In addition, a central, overarching control and steering intelligence will oversee everything and optimize logistics and material flow processes in the factory and manage all machines and devices including tasks such as route planning, loading strategies, task assignment, and fleet management for collaborative robots. At least that’s the theory. Putting this into practice is the challenge facing the R&D divisions at the KION Group and its brands.

Important Research Work for the Factory of the Future

The KION Group and its brands have already reached a number of important milestones thanks to their comprehensive portfolio of autonomous transportation vehicles , mobile order picking devices and robots, the fully-networked digital truck, and its comprehensive expertise in the areas of software and simulation . But a lot more R&D work has to be completed before the vision for the future mentioned above will form part of our daily lives, and for new standards for Industry 4.0 to be defined. In addition, digitalization of industrial production is a complex process and is something that has been being worked on already for a number of years. Transformation to fully digitalized production is closely linked to continuous development. Already, there have been lots of successes, but also lots of challenges and questions that remain unanswered. We are still missing a number of important tools to be able to define new industrial standards and implement these successfully. This is where the following research initiatives that the KION Group is working on in collaboration with well-renowned partners from industry, academia, and research come in.

KI.Fabrik: Understanding the Requirements for Robot-Human Collaboration Better

Robotics plays a major role in Industry 4.0. Up until now, robots in industrial environments have worked behind protective fences. This, however, is set to change, as The Technical University of Munich is demonstrating with a research project on the future vision of the Smart Factory. The initial plan is for a four-year joint research and development project, with the option of extending the project in multiple phases by up to ten years. The KION subsidiary Linde Material Handling is involved in the project, which is being led by the MIRMI (Munich Institute of Robotics and Machine Intelligence of The Technical University of Munich), as a consortium partner alongside industry partners such as BMW and many other companies. The goal of the project is to see autonomous, multifunction robots working directly or over long distances in a collaborative manner with human colleagues by means of artificial Intelligence (AI).

The KION subsidiary Linde Material Handling is contributing its intralogistics experience within the futuristic production environment to the research project. The project is currently in the initial phase whereby different environments (e.g. assembly and production areas or a warehouse) and application scenarios are being outlined and the associated technical requirements are being developed.

The project represents a significant opportunity for KION. Firstly, it will give us first-hand experience in the industrial requirements of the future. Secondly, it will give us the opportunity to test and develop our robots in real-world environments. The goal of the project is to optimize our logistics system hardware and software to the factory environment.

Peter Krumbholz, KI.FABRIK Project Manager at the KION Group

Alongside the research activities, a prototype of a Bavarian AI factory will be installed at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, which will be continuously expanded with the results of the project. Transportation systems from Linde Material Handling will also play an important role in production supply for this project. In addition, other AI factories will be developed throughout Bavaria and begin working in a networked manner.

ARIBIC: Creating Real-Time 3D Maps of Production Environments

In April 2021, the KION Group and its cooperation partners LeddarTech, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), and the STARS Lab at the University of Toronto started the “ARIBIC” research project. Artificial Intelligence-Based Indoor Cartography, or ARIBIC for short, involves the systematic collection and processing data by means of driverless transportation vehicles (DTVs). DTVs are already common in production environments and warehouses. Equipped with high-tech sensors such as laser scanners and cameras, they navigate safely through production lines and warehouses and continuously generate data on the environment through which they travel. However, currently this data is not being collected systematically.

This is where ARIBIC comes in. The data collected by the sensors on the trucks is used to create high-resolution 3D maps of warehouses or production environments. The goal of the project is to create a digital composition of the environment and make all relevant data visible and share it in real time. Users will thus receive live information on the position of objects via tracking and tracing. This data would make it possible to simulate the routes of the different trucks and thus improve processes. These smart and digital services can also help detect and report anomalies such as blocked travel paths. If this is done consistently, the overall structure of a warehouse or a production environment can ultimately be optimized. The project is scheduled to run until the end of 2023.

ARIBIC: Creating Real-Time 3D Maps of Production Environments.

IC4F: Technology Kits for Secure Data Transfer in Industry 4.0

Networking, data modeling, and data transfer are key themes in Industry 4.0. Within the framework of IC4F (Industrial Communication for Factories) , the KION Group has been examining and developing safe, robust, and real-time communication solutions for the manufacturing industry since 2017. As part of this, key technologies from the fields of 5G, multi-access-edge-computing (MEC), cloud computing, virtualization via established digital twin technologies, and industrial monitoring and analytics were deployed. The KION subsidiary STILL was heavily involved in this project with four of the ten demonstrators. The 15 project partners from industry and research that were involved in this project included Robert Bosch GmbH, Siemens, Deutsche Telekom AG, and Nokia.

IC4F is designed as a modular kit that can be expanded for new applications and communication technologies and support industry in finding new communication solutions. As part of the project, a guideline was also developed for Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Industry (BMWi) that outlines how communication technologies can be used in a positive manner within the framework of Industry 4.0. An application of particular interest for the intralogistics sector was studied within the framework of the “Truck-to-X Communication” demonstrator, which deals with innovative door control in a factory hall. The forklift truck and the door are integrated in a common virtual environment: the cloud. An ultra-wideband indoor positioning technology supplies the forklift truck’s location data and the door control is controlled from the virtual environment. Digital twins were created from the forklift truck and door to ensure sure the door opens as soon as the forklift truck approaches it. The virtual model is able to continuously assess the data. For example, the door will only open if the forklift truck, mast, and forks will actually fit through it. If this is not the case, the driver will receive a warning and the machine will take over control of the forklift truck. The results were demonstrated in a live demonstration in 2020 at STILL’s Hamburg site, where an extra campus network was installed with the latest mobile network technology. “The results of our research will enable users to select the information and communication technology and specific migration approach they need for their Industry 4.0 requirements,” summarizes Ansgar Bergmann, Project Manager for IC4F at the KION Group.

Industry 4.0 still holds many exciting challenges for Intralogistics 4.0. In the second part of our story, you will learn more about exciting KION research initiatives and how autonomous transportations systems learn how to act in a more autonomous manner.

IC4F: Technology Kits for Secure Data Transfer in Industry 4.0.