Automated equipment: how can warehouse safety be improved?

Think of AGVs and co. and the first things that spring to mind are their independence, their versatility, and their ability to boost process efficiency. That said, there are certain industries and scenarios where logistics decision-makers are reluctant to hand hazardous goods over to a driverless vehicle. However, automation can strengthen rather than jeopardize safety – as demonstrated by German chemical giant BASF at their factory in Italy.

At the Pontecchio Marconi BASF Italia factory in Bologna, Italy, safety is a top priority. After all, the plant manufactures a variety of products, including additives for plastics and, in particular, light stabilizers and antioxidants. Employees and vehicles must observe safety distances, and comply with strict rules for handling and transporting hazardous substances.

Minimal contact means maximum safety

The packaging department is the heart of the BASF plant. Previously, loaded pallets were placed in a staging area prior to transfer to a warehouse by traditional means – i.e. conventional forklift. However, moving items in and out of the staging area tied up skilled staff and expensive vehicles. Following a workplace safety analysis and other steps, BASF arrived at a solution: an AGV system from Linde Material Handling, a provider of intralogistics solutions based in Aschaffenburg, Germany. The AGVs operate entirely independently, meaning no human intervention is required, within a pre-defined area. Mario Serranti, Supply Chain and Logistics Manager at BASF explains: “As Linde’s solution took shape, we could instantly see the potential it offered from an automation perspective – and, above all, from a safety perspective.”

A flexible solution that recognizes dangers

The automated vehicles navigate the Pontecchio Marconi warehouse with great precision. They are equipped with highly sensitive, powerful lasers that measure the vehicle’s distance from key infrastructure. This information is then compared with a map of the area in the vehicle’s software. The AGVs are therefore able to respond near instantly to obstacles, such as pedestrians, and brake automatically where needed. This all comes down to advanced and smart sensor technology, and a sophisticated safety concept. And that’s not all: the AGVs are equipped with further defense mechanisms, including twin emergency stop buttons, an acoustic warning system, and Linde’s BlueSpot.

“The integrated project enables us to react immediately to changes”,

confirms Mario Serranti.

“And scalability is a major advantage.”

The AGV does not only contribute to increased safety at the chemical company, but it also allows BASF to adapt to the market quickly and flexibly. Speeds can be adjusted respectively, for example, as the order volume increases. Additionally, work processes can be reconfigured at any time. All in all, this leads to improved processes and in the long term to a company-wide advantage.