2021-04-22

On the way to a carbon neutral warehouse

We keep the world moving: That is the promise that the KION Group and its brands implement day after day with a great deal of passion and expertise at their customers. It doesn't just involve offering the right intralogistics solutions for ever faster flows of goods. KION also has a responsibility to always think about the planet, which occupies a prominent place in our mission statement, when developing our solutions. For this reason, the KION Group forges ahead — in order to make their vision of sustainable and energy-efficient intralogistics a reality as soon as possible

Our environment is a complex system in which everything is inescapably interconnected. If an ecosystem is threatened, this has consequences for other ecosystems. Whether a company or an individual, we must all question our influence and what contribution we can make to save or even to restore our planet's resources.

World Earth Day 2021: Restore our Earth

Earth Day has been celebrated annually on April 22 in more than 192 countries since 1990 and aims to strengthen appreciation for the natural environment. The theme for this year's Earth Day is "Restore Our Earth" and focuses on natural processes, emerging green technologies and innovative thinking that can restore the world's ecosystems.

The role of intralogistics in this is greater than it might seem at first glance. After all, every single product that people around the world need for their daily lives has likely been in contact with industrial trucks and automated storage systems during its manufacturing and transport process. Intralogistics systems — from simple pallet stackers to powerful forklift trucks to highly complex, automated pallet warehouses — are among the basic requirements of international trade in goods and are used millions of times all over the world. And all over the world, they consume energy. This is precisely where the commitment of the KION Group and its brands comes in: Because if we, as one of the leading suppliers of intralogistics systems, manage to improve the energy efficiency of our products in all these places, we can make a significant contribution to restoring the Earth's resources. And just like the initiators of this year's World Earth Day, we believe that a healthy planet is not an option, but a necessity.

With e-trucks into an emission-free and energy-saving future in (intra-)logistics

Industrial trucks are part of almost every warehouse, so they are a significant factor in a company's individual energy consumption. This also has an impact on customer requirements. "Sustainability is playing an increasingly important role when it comes to purchasing forklift trucks. More and more decision-makers are therefore willing to invest in a more sustainable energy system," explains Markus Weinberger, International Product Manager Energy Solutions at KION subsidiary Linde Material Handling.

The KION Group and its brands set the course early on to counter this development with the right products. Energy and energy efficiency are firmly anchored in the objectives of the KION Strategy 2027. In addition to the fuel cell drive, the emission-free electric drive in particular has been systematically pursued for years — with great progress. In the meantime, the battery life and payload capacity of modern e-trucks have reached a level that is in no way inferior to diesel or gas-powered models. And this is also reflected in the sales figures: Electrically powered trucks already accounted for 87 percent of the KION Group's sales in 2020.

Lithium-ion technology in particular is gaining ground. The advanced batteries (which KION now manufactures in its own joint venture, KION Battery Systems) are available for almost all models at Linde Material Handling and its KION Group sister company, STILL. Compared with conventional lead-acid batteries, they offer a host of advantages, such as shorter charging times, a service life that is three to four times longer, and significantly higher energy content and efficiency. In addition, energy generated during braking can be fed back into the battery. On average, customers save around 30 percent in energy compared with a conventional battery-charger combination — while benefitting from completely emission-free operation.

Precision-fit forklifts + intelligent networking = sustainable intralogistics

But energy efficiency is not just about the drive concept. There are numerous other criteria that make a difference here, such as vehicle design and technical equipment features. It is also important to find a vehicle that matches its application as precisely as possible. After all, every kilogram less in total weight has a positive effect on energy consumption. With this in mind, both STILL and Linde Material Handling have continued to optimize their industrial trucks and continuously expand the range of models.

However, it is not only the individual vehicles that matter the most, but their interaction. That's why increasingly advanced fleet management systems and forklift guidance systems ensure that unnecessary journeys are avoided, and vehicles are evenly used to capacity. "In the future, intelligent networking of the chargers will add another important factor for greater energy efficiency," explains Björn Grünke, Product Manager Energy Systems at STILL. "The fleet management system will actively control energy management to prevent consumption peaks and make optimum use of the available energy. For example, forklift drivers will no longer only be shown when and where the next order is due, but also when the best time is for quick intermediate charging." Ultimately, this brings the entire energy infrastructure on the customer side into focus — all the way to the possible in-house production and use of green electricity, in order to get closer step by step to a company’s goal of carbon neutrality.

From the individual product to the intelligent overall concept

"We are at an exciting point where we have to take the step from focusing on individual products to looking at entire, holistic solutions that include much more than just the intralogistics systems," adds Frank Heptner, who is responsible for automation solutions in the KION truck segment. He, too, observes the trend toward sustainability becoming an increasingly important factor for customers. Of course, automated warehouses consume energy, and not just a little. So it's all the more important to find the right strategies to use this energy as efficiently as possible. According to Heptner, the best way to achieve this is to include the (energy) infrastructure of the intralogistics systems in the planning from the ground up. On this basis, the processes at the respective customers must also be scrutinized down to the last detail: Do all goods that are delivered by trucks quasi simultaneously in the morning have to be stored immediately (by several automated industrial trucks at the same time)? Or can a buffer zone be set up so these goods can be put away by just one AGV throughout the day without causing energy peaks in the overall system? And are there perhaps even processes that can be completely dormant when the (possibly existing) photovoltaic system is not feeding in energy? Answers to these questions significantly expand the energy impact of intralogistics — while also presenting the opportunity for enormous energy savings to our customers.

Not only consumers, but also energy producers

In automated high-bay warehouses, movement upwards provides another opportunity for intralogistics in terms of energy efficiency: Just like the e-trucks from Linde Material Handling and STILL, which recover energy when braking, the storage and retrieval machines (SRM) from another KION subsidiary, Dematic, can "recuperate" electricity during operation. In plain terms, when an SRM moves up the rack, energy must be expended, but when it moves down, energy is fed back into the system. Dematic technology sends this energy back into the system, achieving energy savings of more than 40 percent on the way. "You have to think of a high-bay warehouse as a kind of massive battery," explains John Mart, Vice President Product Management at Dematic. "The savings in a typical high-bay warehouse could power 400 households over the course of a year."

Achieving more with less

Recuperation is just one of many starting points used at Dematic to make the various products and systems even more energy efficient. An important question that concerns the developers relates to the individual application, as John Mart explains: “Safe, sustainable and efficient solutions are important to our customers. We are working proactively to improve our products to meet these needs. Every new product development is thoughtfully designed to protect users, reduce materials and minimize energy usage for the application.” The Dematic MultiShuttle® was also reviewed and lost significant weight in the reengineering process, which in turn has a positive impact on energy consumption. Last, but not least, Dematic has also been using new technologies in its case and package conveyors since 2020, and a 15 percent saving in power consumption has been achieved here as well.

Intelligent software, effective savings

As good and economical as the individual components are, real efficiency only comes when all systems mesh perfectly. This is where control by the right software plays a decisive role. It ensures that case and package conveyors automatically stop as soon as all materials have arrived in place, and sends MultiShuttles into automatic sleep mode between orders. Software also orchestrates the system movements— ensuring, for example, that in a high-bay warehouse, the several SRMs start at different times rather than simultaneously to avoid energy peaks. And Dematic's developers are far from running out of ideas in this area, too. “Our software is the key to unlocking further energy savings, and we are incorporating AI to realize the benefits," reports John Mart. “It’s in the early days, but we see great potential within our products for optimization.”

It clearly shows: Our experts are the most important source of energy for our future. By constantly improving our products and software in order to offer holistic solutions for individual requirements, we help our customers achieve their own sustainability goals — on the way to a carbon neutral warehouse.

The switch to electric: Less noise, fewer exhaust fumes

KION Battery Systems starts production of lithium-ion batteries