The Combi-AGT design was based on the Combi-GTE, popular with service centers due to its ability to navigate long loads down narrow warehouse aisles

December, 2023- Visitors to the Combilift exhibit at FabTech 2023 were some of the first to publicly see the CombiAGT, the newest sideloader from the Irish materials handling manufacturer. But for the past 18 months, the Combi-AGT—the world’s first autonomous dual operational sideloader for long loads— has been field-tested at several steel service centers, part of a development process that spanned almost four years.

“We have a philosophy of constantly improving our trucks. We are always listening to customers to develop reliable solutions to their needs,” reports Paul Short, Combilift’s president, North America.

The four-wheel electric stand-on Combi- AGT was developed to handle long loads and address labor challenges in the industry. By automating the lift truck responsibilities, service center personnel are freed up to focus on the picking aspect of order fulfillment. “Customers are seeing the Combi-AGT as a competitive advantage. Now their people are at a picking station instead of being on a sideloader,” Short explains.

Once field-testing began on the Combi- AGT, a series of other benefits were quickly identified. “Service centers are seeing improved efficiencies, reliability, repeatability and safety,” states Short. In the event of a power failure or internet disruptions, the Combi-AGT has a backup manual mode so customers can continue to pick orders.

LONG LOADS

As service centers strive for more efficiencies by ordering longer length mill material, then cutting to length for customers (alongside performing other value-added services), the need for a sturdy means of handling these long loads beckons. “Service centers are storing their materials more efficiently in better racking systems. This is ideal for a sideloader,” explains Short. The new CombiAGT, with a lift capacity of 11,000 pounds and various lift heights, addresses the long load requirements of service centers and other metals operations. Combilift worked in tandem with Irish Manufacturing Research during the Combi-AGT’s development process to ensure seamless integration with various service center warehouse management systems.

     The Combi-AGT driverless sideloader was developed to address the labor challenges faced by service centers.

READING THE SHOP FLOOR

uses the naturally occurring features in a warehouse like the walls, racking and columns for positioning. “The Combi-AGT navigation is similar to that being used in road vehicles,” says Short. LiDAR positions the Combi-AGT, then the truck follows a predetermined route. “With LiDAR, routes can be revised or modified without cluttering up the floor with navigation tools. And there is no risk of guide wires being broken,” states Short. “This is the most advanced way of addressing navigation; it’s future-proof,” he emphasizes.

ENHANCED SAFETY

The laser-based sensors on the Combi-AGT, fitted at various positions on the chassis, constitute an anti-collision safety system as required by the American National Standards Institute. If the machine senses an obstacle or pedestrian in its path, the truck automatically slows down or stops. Only after the obstacle has cleared its path will the Combi-AGT sideloader resume movement. The enhanced adaptive safety system enables the size of the obstacle detection fields to increase or decrease based on the steer angle and speed of the truck. Now, a service center operation can eliminate the presence of personnel in the warehouse aisles, another safety improvement.

READING THE LOAD

The Combi-AGT also features a patent-pending load dimension detection system that performs a laser scan of the load to ensure the length matches the task sent to the machine. “When entering into a load bay, the Combi- AGT will scan for length of load, center of load and opening area on the racks. It performs all these safety checks and can manage a lot of different lengths,” explains Short. “This was developed specifically for steel service centers. We put a lot of development time into this aspect,” he says, referring to Combilift’s team of autonomous software and mechatronics engineers behind the Combi-AGT.

     The Combi-AGT is the world’s first autonomous dual operational sideloader and has a capacity of 11,000 pounds.

LiDAR testing was mostly performed in-house at the Combilift facility in Monaghan, Ireland, where all Combilift trucks, including the Combi-AGT, are manufactured. On-site testing of the Combi-AGT was performed at several service centers in North America. “We were testing for how the CombiAGT interacted with racking systems and various table levels. We gained a lot of knowledge by being on site,” Short says.

COMPATIBILITY

Part of the field testing validated the Combi- AGT’s compatibility with all different makes and models of racking, assuming the racks meet standard levelness targets. The Combi- AGT also integrates with local business logic like WMS or ERP. “It can be a fully automated system or allow for an operator to interface for picking,” explains Short.

Included in any order for a Combi-AGT is delivery and installation. While on site, a Combilift representative performs a LiDAR mapping of the service center facility. This information is then integrated into the service center’s WMS or ERP system, allowing the truck to navigate to the required stock location.

With more than 20 Combi-AGT units already installed in North America, Combilift anticipates many more deliveries as was evidenced by interest from the FabTech exhibit. “The demand in North America is quite high because of the labor shortages. Service centers in North America have racking and picking systems already in place. So adding the automation in loading and unloading with the Combi-AGT is a natural progression,” says Short.

EVOLUTION

With a 25-year legacy of material handling innovations there are more than 27,000 Combilift trucks in North America the Combi-AGT is the industry’s newest solution. Its design is based on the electric manually operated Combi-GTE model, which has long been popular with service centers due to its ability to work efficiently in rail-guided narrow aisles.

“The Combi-AGT is the next step in our evolution of material handling. Where we’ve installed a Combi-AGT, we have eliminated a driver from the process. That’s the difference. We are allowing service centers to change to an automation process that brings the product to the person for picking instead of having the people go to the product,” says Short.

Combilift USA, 877/266-2456, http://www.combilift.com/