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Logistics 4.0 in practice. What are the advantages of Weasel transport system?

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Weasel auto-guided transport system is a solution for automation of tasks in both existing and newly created storage systems. It is also ideally suited for other than warehouse applications, e.g. in production supply. The vehicles enable flexible and efficient transport of containers and boxes, and even hanged items. And this skill was chosen to be used in NextLevel Logistik.

Weasel is an autonomous internal transport system, which means that it works without an operator (AGV type). As opposed to a conventional AGV system, it does not require a complex technology with the use of sensors or a separate control system. The important advantage is that the solution is not based on a “permanently built in” rail system (in the floor of a warehouse or a factory hall), which makes it more mobile.

If required, it can be quickly moved from one place to another, adapted to existing infrastructure or changed according to the changes in this infrastructure. Thus, the solution may be especially interesting for those companies which have to quickly react to changing conditions and where the time of such reaction should be as short as possible. How does it work?

AGV heads directly towards work stations using optical lines placed on the floor. Therefore, the system may be successively developed, for example when the number of operations that need to be conducted grows. This is also a perfect solution for seasonal peaks. The system may be easily (and relatively fast) expanded with new elements, which makes its structure longer and more functional.

Three options of loading

It all resembles playing with a toy train when you connect tract pieces and build stations – in this case loading and unloading stations. In practice, it is easier to link, in a flexible way, different industrial areas, supporting logistics processes. There are a few options of operating the vehicles.

The vehicles may be loaded manually, semi-automatically or fully automatically.

In a manual mode, the goods for loading are prepared by the operators. In a semi-automatic version, the goods are placed on a special table, where they are picked automatically.

It is even more efficient to apply fully automatic loading from the conveyor system. It can include many (buffer) containers, which are subsequently divided between available transport vehicles in one dynamic process. The controller of the whole fleet sends a selected vehicle to an appropriate station. Load carriers are received by the vehicles. They may also automatically receive items from Weasel vehicles and pass them to the following transport lines.

Flexible solutions using RFID technology

That’s the theory. In practice, the fleet of Weasel automatically guided vehicles has been delivered to NextLevel Logistik, logistics operator in the clothing industry. The devices are used in a picking zone in the warehouse for hanged items. The huge advantage was that the system could be implemented in a very short time and quickly integrated with an already existing internal process of material flow.

In a separated warehouse hall, Weasel fleet supports picking hanged products.

magazyn NextLevel Logistik
Photo: NextLevel Logistik

The body of the device is equipped with special brackets, designed for transporting items. Barcode reading is fully automated with the technology of radio-frequency identification (RFiD). A characteristic feature of this solution is that during loading the route in a form of subsequent points marked on a track is provided to the devise.

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The system enables unmanned transport of products to their destination. Another key advantage for such companies as NextLevel Logistik, rendering logistics services and active in a rapidly growing e-commerce system, is flexibility and possibility of adaptation to market needs in a short time.

The system impressed us with its reliability, efficiency and high level of safety, and that is why we have decided to extend its scope of application. A very broad selection of options contributes to flexibility of transport devices configuration. We have received flexible and module transport solutions which we were able to implement in a short time” – explains Henrik Bugiel, Managing Director in NextLevel Logistik.

Weasel System awarded a prize

Weasel has been created by constructors from Schaefera. In NextLevel Logistik, the system was implemented merely a year or so ago. The implementation has already been distinguished by international industry jurors gathered in IFOY (it gained IFOY Award).

The solution was considered as interesting, especially due to its flexibility and relatively low costs, that is the elements which are key factors in the assessment of automated devices.

Photo: SSI Schafer