Smart plant logistics: Automated transport systems for outdoor use

Dingolfing. At BMW Group Plant Dingolfing, automated
transport systems have long been an essential part of plant
operations: From autonomous tugger trains to smart transport robots to
car forklifts – rollout of these innovative vehicles is well underway,
and they have already become a common sight in production halls. “Due
to the wide variety of models we have here in Dingolfing, from the BMW
4 Series to the fully-electric BMW iX, our assembly logistics
currently handles different articles and part” explains Armin Feser,
head of Physical Logistics at BMW Group Plant Dingolfing. “Automated
transport systems help us manage this complexity and organise our
logistics processes at the plant more efficiently.”

After using these innovative vehicles indoors, the next step is to
deploy automated transport systems in areas outside the production
halls. Pilot projects have been running on the plant grounds for
several weeks – with two automated outdoor tugger trains, a so-called
car box and a car trailer.

Peter Kiermaier is responsible for logistics planning and
industrialisation of logistics innovations at Plant Dingolfing. He
firmly believes these vehicles have potential for the future, but also
describes the unique challenges of using them outdoors: “On the one
hand, because of the weather, we have far more disruptive and
influencing factors, so we need more robust sensors and systems. On
the other, we also need vehicles and systems that can communicate and
interact effectively with each another.”

He says protecting other road users, such as pedestrians and
cyclists, is top priority and requires the innovative vehicle to be
integrated into the existing traffic control system.

As part of the AC Log (Autonomous Connected Logistics) research
project, plans call for the car trailer and car box to be connected to
5G, so they can communicate with the existing BMW standard control system.

Specifically, two different outdoor tugger train models are currently
being piloted: The first is a tugger train built by Linde, with an
integrated automation kit from Schiller and a traction of three
tonnes, which is being used to transport door handles autonomously,
without a driver, in covered open spaces. The second model, from
French manufacturer Easymile, builds on lessons learned from vehicle
technology for autonomous driving and is mainly being used to
transport PHS sheet metal parts outdoors. The electric hauler delivers
up to 15 tonnes of traction and, with three trailers, reaches a length
of over 16 metres and an automated speed of 10 km/h. It comes with a
complex navigation system that uses GPS satellite navigation and Lidar
technology to create a 3D image of the surroundings.

An automated, self-driving car box from Stäubli-WFT is also being
piloted. With a footprint of 4.5 x 2 metres and a housing to protect
transported goods from the weather, it is ideally equipped for outdoor
use. The self-driving box moves special containers back and forth
between locations where empty containers are stored and returned in
the northern sector of Plant 02.40. “The product represents a further
development of the previous indoor vehicle used at the Dingolfing
Dynamics Centre 02.70. In the long run, we want to achieve greater
flexibility by using different vehicle sizes and transport
volumes,” explains Dr Thomas Irrenhauser, head of Technology
Development Innovation.

Another device from Stäubli-WFT, the car trailer, is currently in use
at the Dynamics Centre (DYZ). In the near future, two automated car
trailers will be deployed at this location to move containers arriving
by rail to the docking gates for outgoing goods at the container yard,
some 500 metres away, instead of tractor units. There, the container
will be loaded with new parts, which are then transported back to the
container yard by the car trailer, where they wait to be shipped.