ProMat 2005 Innovation on Display

All in all there was a general feeling of optimism on the floor from the 675 vendors and more than 36,000 attendees at this year's ProMat show (Chicago), January 10 -13, 2005.

Although a lot of marketing hype went into the many radio-frequency identification (RFID) applications and equipment, most attendees seemed to be taking a wait-and-see attitude. When it came to hardware, there was plenty of innovation to be seen. Generally, many traditional hardware vendors were talking about how their equipment works in concert with others and there was less talk about how one piece of equipment was going to be the be-all solution to your materialhandling challenges.

The center of the show floor featured an RFID Knowledge Center where attendees viewed a multimedia RFID presentation and were able to meet with RFID technology companies. Many of the industry seminars presented in Chicago can still be found online (www. promat2005.org). What follows are just a few highlights of what the Material Handling Management editors observed at the well-attended show.

Westfalia Technologies (www.westfaliausa.com) was showing a new way to store and retrieve layers of cases in a multiple deep configuration without a pallet. Layers can be from one to 12 deep. Coupled with the automatic layer picking system is a robot that de-palletizes and repalletizes layers. When a pallet is presented to the robot, it is automatically depalletized in layers and each layer is conveyed to the layer picking system where it is stored. As orders are filled the layer picking system retrieves layers and the robot stacks them again in appropriate order to create "rainbow" or mixed pallet loads.

HK Systems (www.hksystems.com) had another innovative approach to order picking on display. The HK3000/RF AS/RS machine features a fully automated rotating fork for moving pallets or containers. Loads can be moved to conveyors, automated guided vehicles or floor locations. The fork-type load carrier allows the HK3000RF to engage standard pallets through the fork pockets just like a turret truck. It can be used with conventional post and beam rack and AS/RS drive-in type rack. The machine can also do case and piece picking, and for replenishment to pick locations where operators are picking to belts or totes. The unit is also equipped with an RFID reader that scans tagged pallets as they are loaded and can validate in-process inventory.

While plastic pallets continued to proliferate at ProMat, aluminum is making inroads for shipping platforms designed for reusable systems. Along with slave board models, Rhino (www.rhinopallet.com) was showing a new nine-block aluminum pallet that has true, four-way entry. This pallet is repairable and has a lifetime bolt system. The deck of the pallet features a punched grid system to secure the load and reduce slipping. The pallets were recently tested at Michigan State University by Dr. Paul Singh. His study shows the pallets have a load capacity of more than 3,000 pounds for racking and dynamic load carrying; and 30,000 pounds static capacity.

Creform Corp. (www.creform.com) showed its new high-strength building block components. They include 3 series of 42-mm diameter pipe, 15 new metal connecting joints and 3 accessories for use with the new pipe size. The company says it new, larger-diameter pipe augments its existing series of 23-mm pipe and gives users a structural member that, over comparable lengths, is approximately 2.5 times stronger than standard pipe. In practical applications, this means structural spans within workstations, racks, carts and other material handling devices, can be made longer with less bracing and support, or shorter spans can hold greater weight.

SICK's booth (www.sickusa.com) featured a 26-foot loop conveyor (www.sickusa.com) that demonstrated the capabilities of several new sensors. The new FSR 600 flat-surface recognition sensor passes dimensional information to a sorting device so packages can be sorted by size. The sensor can detect the presence, width, length, product spacing and location of objects moving on a conveyor with read rates of up to 650 feet per minute. The company also featured several new distance-measurement sensors. The mid-range DT and DL 60 sensors have effective ranges from 200 mm to 24 meters, and feature low black white shift that reportedly makes it easier to change the target material without sacrificing accuracy.

Transbotic (www.transbotics.com) showed its laser-guided vehicle (LGV) with quad maneuverability. It is equipped with non-contact laser safety bumpers that can dynamically vary in the field of safety depending on the requirements of the system. It can handle load weights to 3,000 lbs. and has both counterbalanced and reach lift capabilities.

In the radio frequency identification category, The Kennedy Group (www.kennedygrp.com) introduced several products for improving the application and use of RFID tags. The SmartOne RFID applicator combines the ability to identify and eject bad (or quiet) labels with highspeed encoding and application technology at speeds from 50-65 labels per minute. The SmartOne RFID Printer Applicator has the capability of printing and applying 30-45 labels per minute.

On the lift truck front, Toyota Material Handling (www.toyotaforklift.com) exhibited at ProMat for the first time in 12 years. The company introduced its new line of 7-Series 3-wheel electric trucks. All functions on the trucks operate on AC power, including lift and drive motors. Applying some of the same technology that the company developed for its electric and hybrid automobiles, the AC motors reportedly deliver 45% more power than their predecessors. A system of sensors, limit switches, actuators and a controller on the trucks make load carrying safer and more stable. The sensors monitor the height and weight of the load and the forward tilt angle. When the controller detects a potentially dangerous-situation, the tilt angle is automaticallyreduced to prevent the load from falling off or the lift truck from tipping forward.

With some media fanfare, Yale Material Handling Corp. (www.yale.com) revealed its new Veracitor VX line of lift trucks. The culmination of five years of engineering work, the new line offers improved operator comfort and solid-state parts to minimize downtime and streamline maintenance. First in the series are three configurations of cushion tire trucks, what the company calls its Productivity truck, Value truck and Base truck. Configuration options include three engines (GM 2.4 L, Mazda 2.2L and 2.0L), four Yale transmissions, and various ergonomic features. Not only is the lift-truck design new, so is Yale's production process for manufacturing them. The company's Berea, Ky., facility was redesigned to allow customerrequested features to be incorporated-during production, making it easier to tailor the truck to the specific customer application.

Hyster Company (www.hysterusa.com) launched its new line of S40-70FT Fortis lift trucks. With capacities ranging from 4,000 to 7,000 pounds, the new models are designed to offer low cost of operations. They feature a redesigned and simplified hydraulic system, and an upgraded electrical system. An electronic monitoring and in-dash warning system is designed to reduce service time requirements A one-piece hood and lift-out floor plates speed maintenance. Ergonomic features include increased operator floor space, a smaller steering wheel with standard steer knob, and a more comfortable seat design for driving in reverse. Optional controls integrated into the armrest reduce driver fatigue.

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