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Helping to shape logistics innovations & industrial revolutions

The patent portfolio of the KION Group and its subsidiaries includes 2,863 inventions to date, and that number is rising all the time. Each of these patents is the result of the pioneering spirit of our engineers and developers, whose achievements we are showcasing to celebrate Engineers Week. It is thanks to their efforts that we have always been able to shape intralogistics through our innovations. After looking back at the pioneering achievements of our inventors from 1922 to the 1970s in the first part of our series, we now embark on an exciting journey through time to the most important innovations in our industry, from the Third Industrial Revolution in the 1980s to today – and even a little beyond.


National Engineers Week

The USA celebrates National Engineers Week every year around George Washington’s birthday on February 22. Its purpose is to draw attention to the contributions engineers make to society, and to emphasize the importance of acquiring technical skills and studying mathematics and the sciences. It is also a good reason to highlight and honor outstanding engineering achievements outside of the USA too.

The speed of industrialization and technological progress has accelerated since the 19th century. The 1980s saw exciting developments in information technology that triggered the Third Industrial Revolution and set the course for digitalization and automation in intralogistics. The invention of the internet paved the way for Industry 4.0 and smart factories in which fully networked industrial trucks and automated material handling systems worked hand in hand, connected via the Internet of Things. The engineers at KION subsidiaries Linde Material Handling, STILL, and Dematic have played an active role in these developments and pioneered them through groundbreaking innovations that have made history and shaped the industry to this day. When a potential shift in Germany’s energy policy was first mentioned in the media in the 1980s, the developers at STILL had long been testing new, innovative drive concepts that would provide impetus up to the present day for the transition toward sustainable and resource-efficient intralogistics.

The R 7 hybrid tow tractor was the world’s first hybrid industrial truck

1983: The world’s first hybrid industrial truck

When Hans Still founded a repair shop for electric motors in 1922, he laid the foundation for a company that was to prove its pioneering spirit again and again in the years to come, especially in the field of drive technology. In 1983, STILL launched the world’s first hybrid-drive tow tractor, the R 7. The R 7 combined a powerful diesel engine and an electric battery in a volume-production hybrid. The hybrid tow tractor was particularly suited to working in mixed environments with both large outdoor areas and enclosed buildings. It was initially mainly used on the runways at various airports, as the battery could be recharged outdoors via the diesel without needing access to a power socket. Once charged, the tow tractor could operate indoors without any exhaust fumes. This groundbreaking drive concept combined a long range with high speed as well as greater sustainability and healthier working conditions. STILL continued to develop its drive technologies, launching the RX 70 in 2006 as the successor to the successful diesel-electric R 70 series and presenting the RX 70 Hybrid, the first series-produced hybrid forklift truck, in 2011.

STILL FleetManager 1999

1999: The world’s first digital fleet management system

As data processing became more powerful, digitalization made inroads into intralogistics and opened up exciting possibilities, especially where large fleets of forklifts were in use. This is where another STILL innovation, FleetManager, came into its own at the end of the 1990s. As the first digital fleet management system, it allowed users to continuously collect and evaluate vehicle and operational data. “For the first time, you could see everything at a glance: which trucks are available, how old they are, how busy they are, how accidents happen, which error codes occur,” explains product manager Harald Gelsen, who was responsible for the project at STILL at the time. The software also kept track of valuable information on the drivers, for example about their safety training. The ability to assign specific drivers and vehicles, and prevent unauthorized access – especially by persons outside the company – remains one of the key features for fleet managers. “Fleet managers now enjoyed a whole new level of control and increased security,” Gelsen adds. Initially, the data recorded by the onboard computers had to be regularly ‘collected’ using transponder chips on the trucks, but that changed in 2011 when STILL launched the first connection to the cloud. Since then, all data on all vehicles is available virtually in real time, adding another layer of convenience and control for fleet managers. With FleetManager, STILL paved the way for intelligent data analysis in the warehouse, and thus for other pioneering developments such as predictive maintenance.

The first fuel cell-powered truck was launched in 2003

2003: The world’s first fuel cell-powered forklift truck

The engineers at STILL were also among the pioneers of hydrogen drives. This is another success story that begins at an airport, namely Munich Airport. The world’s first fuel cell-powered forklift trucks were tested here in 2003 as part of a pilot project that included the construction of an on-site hydrogen filling station. A single tank of hydrogen (H2) provided enough power for an eight-hour shift. The key benefits of the fuel cell drive were emission-free operation, high efficiency, and fast refueling. The vehicles’ availability was also significantly higher as there were no batteries to change or maintain. Good reasons for STILL to continue developing this drive variant and implement various other projects, including a project at French food wholesaler Carrefour in 2016, where a fleet of more than 100 hydrogen-powered trucks is in operation. STILL set an example for the use of hydrogen as an alternative energy source in intralogistics, which could become even more important in the coming decades if fossil fuels continue to fade into the background.

Dr.-Ing. Rainer Bavendiek

2005: The world’s first electric forklift truck with lateral battery change

Electric counterbalance trucks have also been systematically improved at STILL, above all in terms of user-friendliness. The team led by Dr.-Ing. Rainer Bavendiek, who was in charge of the project at the time, set itself the task of making it easier to change batteries in electric forklift trucks while increasing the ride comfort for the driver. At the time, the heavy lead-acid batteries had to be changed using a crane, i.e. from above, which required the driver’s seat and many other moving parts to be folded away. On top of that, the driver’s cab was often damaged when the battery was lifted out. Thanks to Bavendiek’s lateral battery system, no crane was needed and the speed of changing the battery increased significantly. The driver also benefited from the new vehicle layout as the folding seat made way for a more ergonomic seating arrangement. The lateral battery change improved both ergonomics and efficiency, and rapidly became the standard throughout the industry.

Shin Yamashita

2001: The invention of the Multishuttle for warehouses

The story of the Multishuttle began in 2001 at the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) in Dortmund, Germany. After its market launch by Dematic in 2006, the system had a decisive impact on intralogistics automation. The IML proto type came with somewhat futuristic name that concealed a tote warehouse with special racks conducting electricity and an associated transport system with autonomously moving, rail-guided and software-controlled vehicles. Shin Yamashita, Director Research and Innovation Management, explains the major advantage of the first Dematic Multishuttle (DMS) over conventional automated storage and retrieval system for small parts (AS/RS).: “Throughput could be increased without additional space requirements and inventory access could be accelerated considerably. Thus, the DMS provided the appropriate innovation step to meet the growing demands of e-commerce and omnichannel-fulfillment.”

Dematic Multishuttle

Shin Yamashita and his team industrialized and optimized the Dematic Multishuttle (DMS) in many ways: Among other things, the power supply was separated from the racks, triple-deep storage via telescopic arm was made possible and thus the load handling was revolutionized. In the meanwhile, Shin Yamashita pursued his invention even beyond mechatronics concepts: With the patented inter-aisle transfer (iAT), it was possible to also position containers in the opposite rack without using a separate front zone conveyor. Until today, his team filed over 14 globally granted patents in relation to the DMS. “The DMS became a core component of industry 4.0 and ioT in logistics and it is an honor and pleasure to accompany and shape the history of its success, which still goes on and is far from being over,” says Shin Yamashita. To this day, he continues to work on further improvements that will enable DMS to continue to fulfill its leading role in automated intralogistics.

The STILL iGo neo CX 20 was the first autonomous order picker

2016: The first autonomous order picker

STILL set another milestone in the development of autonomous industrial trucks with the launch of the iGo neo CX 20 in early 2016. It was the world’s first order picker to use sensors to autonomously navigate around warehouses. Previously, horizontal order pickers had to be steered from order to order by the operator, and repeatedly getting on and off cost valuable time. The iGo neo CX 20, on the other hand, followed its operator closely, using its 360º scanner to keep its human colleague in sight and stopping whenever they did. The intelligent truck adapted to its operator’s working rhythm, letting them go ahead while keeping at a safe distance so the operator could move freely around it. When the operator moved to the next order, the iGo neo followed automatically while maintaining the correct distance to the rack and any obstacles in its path. This made work more pleasant, more efficient, easier, and significantly less arduous. STILL won numerous awards for this groundbreaking innovation and ushered in a new era where robotics became the norm in intralogistics.

Stefan Prokosch and Linde Material Handling’s digital truck

2020: The first forklift truck with full connectivity

Just last year, Linde Material Handling launched the world’s first fully digitalized forklift truck, the 1202 series H20-35, representing a major step toward connectivity and data analytics. As standard, the digital truck features a KCU (KION Communication Unit), a piece of hardware that handles data processing and transmission. A large number of onboard sensors, some of which complement each other and offer many beneficial functions, provide the data. The payload sensor, for example, can be used to distinguish between full and empty runs, which is important for fleet management, and actively prevents the truck from tipping over, which increases safety. In order to use this data for fleet management, the new forklift truck generation is ‘always on’, i.e. it is permanently connected and can be reached anywhere. The vehicle data is stored and managed securely and uniformly in the KION cloud. This is a considerable plus, as anyone who wants to benefit from predictive maintenance and remote diagnostics, or who wants to manage fleets across locations, must be able to view the data from anywhere. Another big leap forward is the ability for customers or service technicians to activate functions ‘over the air’ as required, for example practical applications for load or safety management. “A key benefit is that the truck grows with the customer,” says Stefan Prokosch, who was instrumental in developing this innovation. “With all these digital possibilities, we will be able to implement functions in the future that we haven’t even thought of yet. This will enable us to continuously adapt the vehicle to customer requirements and integrate it ever more closely with customer processes.” The new generation of forklifts from Linde Material Handling takes fleet management to a new level and opens the door to their future use in smart factories.

All set for the next milestone

If one thing is certain, it is that the story of our engineers’ success is far from over. Our extensive experience within the KION Group, our advanced development processes, and the way in which we encourage innovation provide the perfect environment for further influential inventions, whether in the field of energy systems and drive types, warehouse automation and autonomous vehicles, or software and digital solutions. Our partnerships with research institutes, universities, other companies, and our customers ensure that our innovations are even more closely oriented to the market and the latest technological developments. From autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and digital twins to service drones and fully automated light-out warehouses, the pioneering inventors at the KION brand companies STILL, Linde Material Handling, and Dematic will continue to shape intralogistics over the coming years and decades. In doing so, they will deliver the building blocks with which we can build the next generation of warehouses for our customers.