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Research, Design and Testing of Software Modules of the Low-end Robotic System

Part 1: What is difficult to monitor is even more difficult to control!

If a company knows everything in the area of logistics of the plant, it has enough information necessary for further improvements and optimization of production by reducing downtime and costs associated with materials handling equipment (after reviewing man-hours and actual utilization of the current handling equipment) and the like. Ideally, it can also track the movement of inventory, making it easier to optimize warehouse operation. Ultimately, any improvements are leading to a higher value of the production system, which may be reflected in an increased value of the entire company and shareholder dividends. Many companies have established logistics standards, which are more or less observed, however in practice, often they are not.

Despite the existing standards, it is in fact very difficult to detect in real time, where the specific logistical resources are located and what they are doing and why do they not do what they should. One thing is plan but the other is reality: automatically guided vehicle (AGV) with material may have a specifically defined path and be governed by a precise set of commands, however, just a moment of inattention at any point of the path, and the entire continuity of the process is impaired. This could mean a simple sort unscheduled stop of a forklift in the path of the AGV, which has to stop or slow down for a few seconds. It is sufficient, however, to disturb a perfectly calculated logistics plan. Impending deviation from the plan might not be obvious at first, but generally, after a few cycles, when several small delays add up and result in an omission of an action or in a complete shutdown of the entire link.

To obtain control over the situation in the material supply of the links or takeaway of finished products, it is required to have a feedback on the logistics processes in the business.

The first opportunity is addressed by a central monitoring system that displays the data on the computer screen for the operator, providing the information on the status of the devices. At the same time, the systems must allow intervention, therefore it must give the operator the ability to change the behaviour of the devices. Therefore, the system should be consisted of a special program / software, screen displaying information from the input device by which the operator gives commands and finally the part on which the computer runs - i.e. the server or a PC, laptop or even a tablet, and possibly elements that provide the collection of data from robotic logistics devices and sending of commands to these devices. All devices must be logically connected to the system, otherwise, there would be no exchange of data between them and the system. Since robotic logistics device move within the assembly area and autonomously along different paths, it is necessary to have a wireless transfer of data between them and the monitoring system through a suitable radio network.

For these purpose, CEIT AGV Monitor was created. It is a system combining hardware - i.e. network elements, computer, input devices for the operator, output devices for the operator (screens) and special software. (Fig #1).

CEIT AGV Monitor - block diagram of the interconnection of various systems in the plant.

Fig #1: CEIT AGV Monitor - block diagram of the interconnection of various systems in the plant

Product called CEIT AGV Monitor is one from the set of advanced hardware-software tools of the company CEIT SK, s.r.o. intended for monitoring and automatic control of towing devices and peripherals, collection, evaluation, reporting and analysis of EOO logs (logs of operation) of logistics devices, and also, the so-called, logistics management. The latter functionality ensures the monitoring of cargo movement, based on which the system itself decides which AGV set should transfer the cargo and when. It is a fully modular system called CEIT AGV MCS using a common base, while the individual modules can be bought up and implemented separately. Here is at least a brief overview of various basic modules, of which we will primarily focus on the AGV Monitor module.

AGV MCS System Modules and their function:

CEIT AGV Monitor– monitoring and manual remote control of all

AGV CEIT AGV Control – automatic remote control of all AGV (selecting the best route, priority at crossroads and free device for transport) on the basis of defined rules (fixed, dynamic, based on data for example from SAP eWM or instructions from CEIT AGV LogisticManager)

CEIT AGV Log Databuilder– collection of records of operation for further processing

CEIT AGV Log Reporter – processing of collected data and development of transparent reports

CEIT AGV LogisticTracer – tracking the movement of cargo, e.g. on the basis of RFID tags attached to pallets

CEIT AGV LogisticManager– logistics management - choice of which AGV set will transfer the cargo and when.

CEIT AGV MCS – CEIT AGV Monitor

CEIT AGV Monitor System Software uses clear graphical user interface showing the logistics routes in the plant and individual devices moving on these routes with detailed information on their condition and activity (Fig #2). Graphical interface of the program also includes a clearly arranged controls - buttons that allow the operator to perform immediate interventions, e.g. stop towing hitch remotely or launch it or change its path or control peripherals.

CEIT AGV MCS - display of the AGV Monitor module

Fig #2: CEIT AGV MCS - display of the AGV Monitor module

CEIT AGV MCS - display of the AGV Monitor module, detail showing a portion of the status and activity of each device (AGV Trucks)

Fig #3: CEIT AGV MCS - display of the AGV Monitor module, detail showing a portion of the status and activity of each device (AGV Trucks)

For better clarity, the operator has the option to choose how the information will be displayed on the screen according to his or her needs. Route filters, equipment filters and control filters serve this purpose (Fig #4).

CEIT AGV MCS – display of the AGV Monitor module, screen displaying display settings

Fig #4: CEIT AGV MCS – display of the AGV Monitor module, screen displaying display settings

CEIT AGV MCS products can be obtained in a comprehensive delivery with all software and hardware, including the server, workstations, monitors, networks etc., however, the system is fully modular. This means that it is up to the customer which parts he or she wants - whether the system as a whole or implementation to its own hardware. Established network in most cases can be used. System is in fact designed to be able to use virtually any network to transfer data, because the system itself is modular - it contains various modules ensuring the operation of the program, graphical user interface, compatibility with external devices, translation of data into the network protocol, etc. This it is possible to use either Wi-Fi network, XBee, ZigBee or another. The condition is only to have sufficient data transfer rate for a given number of monitored devices and electromagnetic interference to other signals and fields. The communication module will then adjust to this for robotic devices, i.e. the choice of which type of antenna and relevant communication card will be added to the AGV truck distributor.

CEIT AGV Monitor System provides the ability for the production plant to have a complete overview of AGV sets. The operator is informed of the position of trucks, their status, as well as of the status of peripherals, currently executing activities and also of any non-standard behaviour, such as, unscheduled stops. If necessary, the operator can control the device remotely to some extent - this option however requires you to have secured the entire overview of the situation in the hall, otherwise this option is allowed only to adjust settings during implementation or servicing. CEIT AGV Monitor is available as a complete package, i.e. not just software but also all the necessary hardware, while respecting specific customer requirements. It is not just a single product, but just one product from the CEIT AGV MCS product package, whose additional modules will be presented in the next issue of the magazine.

This article was created under the project entitled: "Low-cost Logistics System Based on Mobile Robotic Platforms for Use in Industry", ITMS code 26220220092, Research and Development Operational Programme .

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