Combilift launches world’s first autonomous sideloader with the option to operate manually

Irish materials handling manufacturer Combilift has launched its first autonomous vehicle at the annual Fabtech trade show. Developed by Combilift’s dedicated automation team, the Combi-AGT is a 4-wheel electric stand-on model, which is the world’s first autonomous dual operational sideloader for long loads.

Celebrating 25 years in business, Combilift is acknowledged as being at the forefront of innovation in the global material handling sector with its wide range of customised products, and the Combi-AGT harnesses the very latest smart technology to meet customer demands for driverless sideloader capability. These were driven in part by safety to eliminate the presence of personnel in aisles, consistency in handling procedures and to maximise order fulfilment, while also having a backup manual mode in case of power outages or internet disruptions.

Combilift’s automation team has spent 3 years liaising with specialist steel suppliers to identify the best specifications for the Combi-AGT. The new model, with a lift capacity of 5,000kg/11,000lbs and various lift heights, addresses the requirements of steel service centres and the metal industries, which typically handle long loads. Combilift worked in tandem with IMR (Irish Manufacturing Research) during the development process to enable seamless integration with multiple client warehouse management systems.

Its design is based on the electric manually operated Combi-GTE model which has long been a very popular choice for service centres due to its ability to work efficiently in rail guided narrow aisles. The first Combi-AGT unit was supplied to Kansas based Steel and Pipe Supply 18 months ago, and since then Combilift have collaborated with a number of leading metal service centres across North America during the development process.

The laser-based sensors, 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 that has entered its path, it automatically slows down and will, if necessary, stop in cases of emergency, it will then continue to drive automatically when the obstacle has cleared its safety sensor area. The enhanced adaptive safety system enables the size of the obstacle detection fields to increase or decrease as per the steer angle and speed of the truck.

The natural feature navigation system is superior to traditional methods of truck navigation based on wire guidance or artificial landmarks such as reflectors. Instead, it uses the naturally occurring features in a warehouse – walls, racking and columns for example, avoiding the need to add to or change the warehouse infrastructure.

Its newly developed load dimension detection system (patent pending) operates by performing a laser scan of the load to check that its length matches the task sent to the machine. Similarly, when unloading, it checks that the rack in front has sufficient free space to accept the load.

Combilift CEO and Co-founder Martin McVicar said: “We have deliberately not rushed into incorporating autonomous products into our portfolio. As with any new launch we have carried out extensive field tests to make sure it is fit for purpose by liaising with a number of leading customers in the metal service industry during the product development stage. We are fortunate to have a very motivated group within our autonomous team of software and mechatronics engineers who are committed to scaling this business unit. The Combi-AGT signals a new milestone in product development with further expansion of our autonomous range in the pipeline.”

In 1998 Combilift originally made history with its world-first multidirectional C4000 3-wheel, all-wheel drive forklift. 25 years on the company is still challenging the market and the Combi-AGT is no exception.