DC Velocity recently visited Japan as guests of Daifuku Co. Ltd. and had a chance to preview some material handling solutions that have not yet made their way to the U.S.
We'll be writing more in the coming months about the innovations we observed in the Land of the Rising Sun, but for now, here are just three of the unusual products we saw during visits to a customer site and Daifuku's unique "Hini Arata Kan," a three-story full-scale demonstration facility. (Its name translates very roughly to "pavilion of daily renewal," reflecting the company's mission of improving daily through the development and execution of fresh ideas.)
The SPDR: The SPDR (pronounced "spider") was developed to handle temporary storage, sortation, and retrieval of parts for the auto industry but has applications in other industries as well. A large control box with a flexible grasping "leg" hanging below perches, spider-like, on a girder that allows four-directional movement as the unit scoots along an elevated rail mounted on support columns. As it moves around a storage area, the SPDR slides until it is positioned directly above the desired location. The leg then picks up totes or cases from the floor and delivers them to a conveyor. The system also works in reverse, stacking incoming cases and totes on an open floor, and repositioning them for just-in-time delivery to the manufacturing line. Daifuku says it is the first such system to handle items of varying sizes.
Eye-navi: This unusual, highly flexible pick-to-light system attaches to individual trays or boxes. A picking tote or tray, an RFID tag, and a wireless pick-to-light display travel together, allowing users to sort items into the collection trays or boxes as they move along a front-aligned conveyor.
Aisle-opening mobile rack: This space-saving system designed for slow-moving items includes fixed pallet racks at either end and movable racks on dollies in between; the dollies slide apart to open an aisle where needed. Aisle width can be varied to accommodate lift trucks and pallets or manual case picking. Operators can open the aisles manually via a push button or from the forklift with a remote control. The racks come with several safety features, including sensor eyes that detect entry and exit of forklifts and workers, and a safety lock that prevents rack movement while an order picker is in an aisle.
Daifuku is a diversified enterprise that designs and manufactures material handling and automation solutions for a variety of industries; it's also the parent of U.S.-based Jervis B. Webb Co. and Wynright Corp.