ProMat 2003: Catering to all material handling appetites

Chicago, IL—ProMat, short for "Productivity Solutions through Material Handling and Logistics" exhibition, combined a healthy mix of technologies and services to present to visitors during its Feb. 10-13 run at Chicago's McCormick Place.


Chicago, IL— ProMat, short for "Productivity Solutions through Material Handling and Logistics" exhibition, combined a healthy mix of technologies and services to present to visitors during its Feb. 10-13 run at Chicago's McCormick Place.

ProMat 2003 ndling technologies were dominant. And ProMat was an exhibition of material handling in its fullest sense, that is, encompassing the movement, storage, control, and protection of materials.

As for software offerings, warehouse management systems (WMS) shone brightest. They were complemented by vision system, simulation, production tracking, and related software tools.

High expectations, product highlights
More than 40,000 material handling professionals were expected to be on hand at ProMat 2003 to view products, technologies, and services of 650 exhibitors spread out over 300,000 ft2 of display space. The show-floor mood was upbeat as gauged by a full-day visit on Day 2, and from a small, unscientific sampling of visitors' and exhibitors' opinions.

Among the many exhibitors, AGV Products Inc. (Charlotte, NC) demonstrated the agility of its control and software to rapidly change guide paths of automated guided vehicles (AGVs). The product is a combined development of AGV Products and Nouvafima spa (Modena, Italy), a manufacturer of laser-guided AGVs for automated material handling in ceramic-tile production processes. The controls and "click and drag" software allow AGV system guide-path changes in minutes rather than days or weeks, compared to alternative methods (depending on system size). A demonstration of path change with an actual laser-guided AGV took just seconds.

This innovation lies in new software that can reconfigure three elements in one package: laser system, vehicle, and guidance parameters. The alternative method required three levels of software to reconfigure an AGV system, explains Matts Herstromer, president of AGV Products.

Also announced at the show was a marketing alliance between the two companies in which AGV Products represents and markets Nouvafima AGVs and control technology in North America. The control technology also will be integrated into AGV Products' current Microsoft Windows-based control system.

LIS (Charlotte, NC), a global supply-chain execution solutions provider, introduced Dispatcher-WMS version 7.4. This latest version of the warehouse management system software adds voice-directed picking, enhanced lot control, remote warehouse operations, and ability to capture electronic signatures, says Bob Carver, LIS' vp of sales and marketing.

New software in Dispatcher-WMS eliminates third-party middleware, and enables true voice direction-hands-free and with no keypad input needed. "As a result, transactions are not batched and the headset relays picking orders in real time to the operator," adds Mr. Carver. "Voice as a technology is just now coming into its own."

The electronic signature capture and batch/lot control feature of Dispatcher-WMS is intended for the pharmaceutical industries, where it's driven by the need to meet U.S. FDA validation requirements. However, Mr. Carver also regards this option practical for secure warehouse applications.

Exhibits at Rockwell Automation 's (Milwaukee, WI) booth combined in-house technologies with third-party products that focused on complete solutions for vertical markets. A conveyor from FKI Logistex (Danville, KY) demonstrated material handling principles by transporting various containers of products around a manufacturing circuit, while a Motoman (West Carrollton, OH) robot performed loading/unloading operations. Various control and sensor products from Rockwell were incorporated into the conveyor line. Other Rockwell products on display included several items from the Kinetix motion control family, for example, Kinetix 6000 servo drive.

Among its dynamic displays, automated material handling system integrator Siemens Dematic (Grand Rapids, MI) showed a pallet-based conveyor designed for lighter duty electronic manufacturing and for production lines that require modular assembly steps. This type of conveyor technology comes into Siemens Dematic's fold via the recent acquisition of Automation Technologies Industries (ATI, Birmingham, AL). ATI's core offerings of pallet handling systems and printed-circuit board assembly equipment will complement Siemens' other material handling lines.

Sensors also play a vital in material handling systems. One product example was Banner Engineering Corp. 's (Minneapolis, MN) Q60 adjustable-field sensors that identify presence/absence of large containers moving along a conveyor line. These sensors can be set to detect targets as far away as 80 in., yet they ignore objects beyond the target because of the adjustable-field feature.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Frank J. Bartos, executive editor

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