RFID Solution for Error-Proof Material Logistics

KEB Automation is expanding its automated driverless transport system with RFID technology into a fully automated and fail-safe material logistics solution

To optimize material logistics for assembly, drive and automation technology, specialist KEB Automation relies on RFID technology on conveyor lines and driverless transport systems. Turck's RFID solution supports the automation of logistics processes and enables full transparency in the material flow of frequency inverter production – without any time-consuming manual effort. The solution also helps to optimize the use of resources and the efficient utilization of warehouse capacity by ensuring fast and reliable assignment to destinations through automated pallet tracking.

  • After the transport order is generated, the DTS picks up the pallet at the warehouse location

  • External antennas on the high-speed door detect tags on the pallet over a long distance

  • External RFID near-field antennas on the conveyor system only detect the pallet directly in front of them

  • The Q5X laser distance sensors determine whether pallets are present at the transfer point

  • Phillip Hannesen | KEB Automation 

  • Viktor Derksen | KEB Automation

Warehouse control and pallet tracking using RFID technology

"We wanted to fully automate the identification and tracking of all pallets on the routes in the production area using RFID tags," Viktor Derksen, head of industrial engineering at KEB, describes the main requirement of the application. The labels have a unique handling unit number (HU), which gives the load carriers their identity in SAP EWM. The additional labeling of the number as a barcode and plain text makes who identified a pallet, and where and how it was identified unimportant. A transport order always therefore refers to an HU, also between cross-system warehouse locations, whether executed by the DTS or by conventional industrial trucks. The information exchange between the different systems and SAP is coordinated via middleware.

At the automated warehouse, the picked pallets are prepared for the DTS using a conveyor system. From this start point, the pallets are transported to all electronics production halls. The route includes several individual sections and intermediate buffers, depending on the destination.

Optical ID solution unsuitable

The DTS always requires instructions or position information to determine the route.
"For a simple pallet transport from one workstation to another, this is quite straightforward," explains Phillip Hannesen, digital transformation manager for production at KEB in Barntrup. "It becomes problematic in zones in which multiple pallets are temporarily stored to be picked up later by another vehicle and taken to another location. When there is a mixing of load carriers, consistent HU-to-location assignment is no longer assured, so vehicles must always be able to identify the loaded pallet."

In order to ensure reliable identification of the load, the possibility to do this is important regardless of the orientation and positioning of the pallet. Turck's UHF RFID technology provides a solution for all installation situations of the application and achieves a read rate of almost 100 percent. The versatility and flexibility of the system is demonstrated by a look at the various use cases at KEB.  

Pallet identification at the transfer point

The presence of the pallets at defined storage locations is checked at a transfer point for forklifts and DTS. The Q5X laser distance sensor from Turck's optical partner Banner Engineering is used for this. 20 Q5X sensors with a range of 5 meters are used to detect 20 pallets. The Q5X sensors, mounted at a height of 3 meters, determine whether there are pallets at the transfer point that can be transported. As soon as the distance sensor has detected the presence of a pallet, a transport order is generated for the DTS. This picks up the pallet, passes through the RFID gate and finally receives the HU information from SAP EWM. 

Pallet identification at full speed

External antennas are mounted on each side of a hall door and connected to the UHF RFID reader. The external antennas ensure reliable detection of the RFID labels on the pallets, regardless of the orientation of the respective pallet on the DTS. As the DTS approaches the door, it sends a signal to the Q300 via the network to start the recording. 

A store order, i.e. the order to transport the load carrier from A to B, is present in SAP EWM for the HU that the Q300 detects. Once the DTS has passed the gate, it sends a request to the middleware. This retrieves the pallet information from the antenna and then asks the SAP system for the destination of the pallet. The data captured is then transferred to the DTS.

Full transparency 

The RFID solution offers KEB the key advantage of end-to-end transparency. The location of a pallet can be seen at any time – whether it is still on the conveyor system, has been picked up by the industrial truck or has already arrived at its destination. In some situations, it is possible to automate the acknowledgment of EWM warehouse tasks using RFID. This is supplemented by the manual operation of mobile devices. "Turck's solution gives us the transparency we wanted without any time-consuming manual effort," Derksen said. "The capture of the RFID tags is fully automated, allowing warehouse tasks from the SAP Extended Warehouse Management system to be completed or processed at the same time."

Agile warehouse management allows controlled chaos

Another benefit of the RFID solution is that it allows mixed traffic in the production hall. This means that both DTS and employees with lift trucks or forklifts could load and unload simultaneously in the staging area. Separate storage space management is not required, as each pallet can be identified at each fork. "By using this RFID solution, we can intentionally allow a certain amount of chaos at this point to enable efficient work. As soon as a pallet leaves the area, the pallet and its destination are automatically recognized", explains Hannesen, who also emphasizes the good cooperation with Turck: "Turck's service and short communication channels enable efficient cooperation, and we are happy to rely on this trusting and well-established partnership."

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