Old production machinery has to be replaced due to changed requirements. However, high weight and limited space in plants often make it very difficult to assemble and disassemble big machines or to reposition them. Frequently, this is done by hand using heavy-duty rollers. FORMIC Transportsysteme, a spinoff of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), has developed a semi-automatic transportation system for the replacement of production plants, which works like a swarm.
“Our system consists of several separately driven vehicles. Together, they can lift a weight of up to 40 tons and move it semi-automatically,” says Dr. Maximilian Hochstein from KIT’s Institute for Materials Handling and Logistics (IFL). For the transportation of heavy loads, up to 15 vehicles can be coupled. “They are connected by radio and equipped with cameras for self-coordination and synchronous acting,” Hochstein says.
“Machines and goods of various dimensions and weights can be lifted comfortably by a single person and moved remotely,” says Dr. Benedikt Klee from KIT’s wbk Institute of Production Science. Although joystick control works manually, commands are then obeyed automatically. “The load is lifted from the ground and then moved flexibly,” Klee says. “For transporting a typical production machine in manufacturing industries, three vehicles are sufficient.”
Triple Innovation: Concept, Mechanics, and Software
Tommi Kivelä, IFL, points out that the innovations consist in the swarm concept, the mechanics of the individual vehicles, and the control software. Theoretically, more than 15 vehicles may be connected to transport even heavier loads. “However, the swarm size is still limited by safety control.”
The founders of FORMIC consider their potential customers to be movers of facilities and machines and companies offering internal plant layout changes and machine transports. They also address manufacturers of big machine tools, as the vehicles enable continuous production of heaviest machines.
FORMIC is supported by an EXIST startup grant, a funding program of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection to fund startups from science, and by the KIT Founders Forge.