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Products and solutions, 2009-09-21, 11:26 AM

A helping hand from ParcelRobot:system from Bremen unloads overseas containers

Everything that is packed into containers individually and manually abroad, also requires laborious manual work when it arrives here. It is still standard today in ultra modern large warehouses – except in that belonging to MGL METRO Group Logistics in Unna. Since this March a robotic system from ThyssenKrupp Krause has been working there that can autonomously unload and palletize loose items from overseas containers.

The Bremen company supplies turnkey assembly and test systems worldwide for the production of engines, transmissions and axles for the automotive and automotive supplier industry and assembly systems for the aviation industry. With the ParcelRobot system, ThyssenKrupp Krause is now tapping into a new business segment in the field of robot-integrated logistics. The company has an important client for the innovative system in MGL METRO Group Logistics, and inquiries from all over Europe and North America confirm the market’s great interest in the product.
Whether a toaster, video recorder or microwave oven: the 6-axis kinematic system unloads up to 360 loaded parcels per hour. On a steerable chassis, the system drives into the containers, picks up the cardboard boxes and places them on a conveyor belt at the end of which they are automatically loaded onto pallets.
What sounds quite simple at first actually entails a great deal of innovative technology and many years of development work, which also incorporates lots of findings from aviation research. For example, image recognition. A 3D laser scanner scans the parcel layers inside the container, the image is transmitted to a computer, which determines the coordinates and dimensions of the parcels using software. This means that the robot can move and grip exactly.
“The edge length of the parcels must not be more than 80 centimetres or under 20 centimetres,” explains Dipl.-Ing. Carsten Rasch, Logistics Account Manager at ThyssenKrupp Krause. And there is a also a limit for weight: anything lighter than 31.5 kilograms is allowed.
Around 30 million parcels pass through the METRO warehouse in Unna every year. Of these, 3.5 million parcels are non-food imports – this includes everything from small items of furniture to electronics items. A third come from Europe, the rest from China and other Non-EU countries. They are delivered in 20 and 40 foot overseas containers, are unloaded by the system, automatically loaded onto pallets and then stored in high racks. From here, the trading company supplies Metro Cash & Carry stores all over Germany.
There is a lot of movement in the warehouse, and most of it is automatic. Nevertheless: just under 300 people work in the METRO warehouse in Unna. They now have an industrious new colleague in the form of the ParcelRobot. “The system has been received positively by the employees’ representatives and the professional association,” reports Hubert Braunshausen, plant manager of the MGL site in Unna. Unloading containers is a hard, physically demanding work, especially in summer, when the work is made even harder by the heat in the containers. His aim is to further automate these processes.
The robot systems applied up to now could either unload containers or palletize the unloaded units. “In Unna we succeeded in combining these two processes for the first time,” says Braunshausen.
The ParcelRobot system is not just manufactured by ThysssenKrupp Krause; the mechanical engineering company is also integrating it in the existing incoming goods systems. “We are considering the whole logistics chain,” says Rasch. “With our developments we will help to close these gaps.”

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