2021-09-17

ifesca: AI-Based Energy Management for Electric Forklift Truck Fleets

Electromobility is becoming increasingly important in a number of areas, including intralogistics. We rely heavily on lithium-ion drive technology in our research and development activities. Our thinking here isn’t just limited to the use of batteries in the high-performance forklift trucks from our subsidiaries Linde Material Handling and STILL. There is also a strong focus on energy management and interface intelligence. Here, together with software specialists at ifesca, KION is taking its next steps toward the future, harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the efficiency of energy use in warehouses.

New solutions for improving energy efficiency have long played an important role within the KION Group, and this is not just evident in our 2027 strategy, in which energy is one of the key fields of activity. The sales figures also show that the KION Group is on the right track. In 2020, 87 percent of the incoming orders from the KION forklift truck segment “Industrial Trucks and Services” were already electrified products. As recently as June 2021, KION subsidiary Linde Material Handling introduced ultra-modern electric forklift truck models (Linde X20 – X35) in the 2.5 to 3 tonne carrying capacity range, with the performance level matching that of IC trucks. Our brands’ electric forklift trucks—particularly the lithium-ion forklift trucks—are therefore more than just a good alternative to industrial trucks with traditional combustion engines, they are a crucial puzzle piece in our mission to save resources in intralogistics.

But this puzzle needs many more pieces to create a coherent overall picture for our customers. While lithium-ion forklift trucks offer many outstanding features, they also bring new challenges for users, which then need solving, particularly in the area of energy management. Electric forklift trucks can be partially recharged. On one hand, this is highly practical as the forklift truck can be charged for the next shift in just a short space of time, e.g., during a lunch break. On the other hand, the charging process places an unusually large burden on the energy supply, which can cause a “supply peak.” In order to expand its portfolio of solutions and to simplify its customers’ energy management, the KION Group has entered into a strategic partnership with software developer ifesca GmbH.

Up to 20 Percent Energy Savings

“Energy is the key topic of this decade and ifesca is making a huge contribution toward using energy in a more professional way than is currently the case,” says Stefan Prokosch, SVP Brand Management Linde Material Handling/KION Group. The young Ilmenau-based company actually specializes in keeping the electricity infrastructure of the large network operators stable. This requires high-quality forecasts, in order to balance out network fluctuations and prevent blackouts. KION also has a similar situation in terms of the added value it wants to provide for its customers with the ifesca software: namely, improved “peak power management.” The solution helps to manage internal energy networks more efficiently, by providing a full overview of all energy producers and consumers within a company. The system can control all of these influencing factors on an operational level, which enables companies to utilize resources more efficiently and smooth out/avoid cost-intensive peaks. The way this works is quite simple: In times of heavy use, certain consumers, such as air-conditioning units, can be shut down temporarily. This process, known as “peak power shaving,” enables energy savings of ten to twenty percent to be achieved.

Consistent Use of Regenerative Energy Sources

At the same time, the software also monitors the energy supplied by internal regenerative sources, which will become increasingly important in the future. The system also actively incorporates this into the control processes: If, for example, good weather means there is suddenly more energy available from the solar panels on the roof for a certain amount of time, the software starts up energy-intensive processes in these time windows in a targeted manner. If bad weather sets in, they are shut down again. This allows the available resources to be used in the most efficient way possible, achieving sustainable savings through intelligent redistribution.

Improved Forecasting with AI: It Pays to Look Ahead

Another piece of software from ifesca even goes one step further: Using cognitive AI, this software forecasts a company’s energy consumption and production for two to three days in advance. The software does this by collating all possible data on all conceivable factors that influence availability and consumption of energy: from production and logistics data through to the weather. Here, too, the software incorporates regenerative energy sources and forecasts how much electricity can be made available by the internal systems in the coming days. The application’s algorithms allow it to learn more quickly as its service life continues, and thus to improve the quality of the forecasts and data.

Companies can generally purchase energy more cheaply if they buy set energy packages a few days in advance. The quality of the forecasts is important here in order to make the right decisions. This is exactly what the ifesca solution does. The software enables electricity to be purchased more cheaply and in precisely the right quantity. Modern energy storage systems, which are increasingly popular in production environments, are also integrated in this kind of forward planning, and are then topped up when the electricity is available at particularly affordable prices. This yields energy savings of a further ten to twenty percent on average.

Comprehensive Solutions for Fleets and More

KION Group wants to offer its customers this comprehensive solution in order to optimize charging management for the lithium-ion fleets in use: “With the accurate forecast results from this platform, you will be able to optimize the planning of charging times for your industrial truck fleets, avoid charging peaks, and therefore significantly reduce your energy costs,” explains Stefan Prokosch. The platform can also be easily and flexibly integrated into the existing energy management systems via open interfaces. This also provides further benefits for customers, both in regard to savings and in terms of achieving their own sustainability goals.

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