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Revolution in the logistics sector – robots support the loading and unloading process

  • Robot system for container unloading

In many areas of industry, robots are an integral part of the manufacturing process. Yet it is precisely the areas involving the transportation of heavy goods that still offer great potential. Loaded sea containers weigh between 20 and 30 metric tons. Unloading such heavyweights is therefore complex and offers many options for optimization. This is exactly where robot systems are used and can thus support the logistics process.

 Robot systems for container unloading

Customer: Copal Handling Systems

Location: ’s-Heerenberg (Gelderland province)

Sector: Plant engineering

Application: Robot systems for container unloading





Robot systems for container unloading
  • Lifting sacks up to 100 kg
  • 360-degree rotations are to be made possible
  • Automatically positioning a gripper using a motion controller
  • Automatically coordinating unloading using software
  • Smooth machine motion sequences
  • Service in case of failures needs to be ensured within a few hours
  • Option of remote system diagnostics
  • Small footprint of automation technology
  • Support in calculating the kinematic model
  • Using MOVI-C® UHX84 motion controller
  • Controlling all the cylinders of the hydraulic lifting column via EtherCAT® Remote IO
  • Using MOVI-C® automation technology, consisting of engineering software, control technology, motors, and centralized and decentralized inverters
  • Installing shaft-mounted helical-bevel gear units for installation with little space
  • Larger loads are moved using DRL../DR2L.. series asynchronous servomotors with an IE3 design
  • 24/7 service availability
  • Optimized servicing at Copal
  • Compact design of the MOVI-C® automation platform
  • Energy-efficient drive technology
  • Drive and control technology from a single source

High transportation volumes need new solutions

WE AUTOMATE! In this customer reference, we will introduce you to the automatic container unloading system by Copal Handling Systems, including automation technology from SEW-EURODRIVE.
Automatic container unloading | Copal Handling Systems

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WE AUTOMATE! In this customer reference, we will introduce you to the automatic container unloading system by Copal Handling Systems, including automation technology from SEW-EURODRIVE.

Robot systems for container unloading

We're all aware that online orders nowadays take only a few days to arrive on our doorstep. It's a similar situation in industry. Just-in-time production requires a fast and flexible supply chain. This presents the transportation and logistics sector with major challenges. It isn't just the extreme time pressure but also the ever-increasing difficulty in recruiting specialists that plagues companies. To ease this situation and reduce the physical workload for employees, companies are on the lookout for solutions to automate individual steps. Headquartered in the Dutch city of ’s-Heerenberg, Copal Handling Systems offers an innovative solution to meet these needs. The challenge was to develop a robot unloading system that can operate in the tightest of spaces while still delivering top performance. The company began by developing and building systems for unloading bagged goods, with cocoa, nuts and coffee in jute sacks being lifted using grippers fitted with needles.

René Versteeg, chief engineer at Copal:

For us, it was important to find a supplier with a global presence that can respond to failures within just a few hours.

Jan Grasmeijer, technical director at Copal:

We feel that the responsibility – looking across the life cycle as a whole – needs to be shared between several people.

The project in detail

"C2" mobile unloader

Mobile handling solution from Copal
Mobile handling solution from Copal
Mobile handling solution from Copal

New to the Copal range is the C2 unloader. This is a mobile handling solution that is ready for use within 15 minutes and can be used both inside and outside. It was developed and optimized for lifting jute sacks filled with nuts, coffee or cocoa with a mass of up to 100 kg and offering the option of rotating the unloader 360 degrees. A motion controller ensures automatic positioning of the gripper. The software is used to scan the sacks and determine the unloading sequence. The gripper is equipped with a flexible mechanism featuring a number of rotation and tilting points. Using needles, it grips the sacks and moves them in a single fluid movement. In this way, the work can be performed faster while also boosting productivity.

Service availability around the clock

We were chosen due to the high complexity level of the systems, the resulting strict requirements relating to the drive and control technology and, in particular, thanks to our service portfolio. Services such as predictive maintenance and the option of remote diagnostics were of special importance to Copal. Copal also requested an extensive service network and the associated fast availability of all services.

Controlling the kinematic model using a motion controller

Inverter technology
Inverter technology

Employees from Copal and SEW‑EURODRIVE worked closely together to calculate the kinematic model. There are essentially four movements, which follow an LRRL (linear-rotating-rotating-linear) pattern. Three of these movements (X-axis horizontal, parallel arm and lifting column) occur via electrically driven axes. The fourth axis, lifting column linear, is controlled hydraulically but is integrated into the moving model and controlled by one of our motion controllers – the MOVI-C® UHX84.

Robot technology in very confined spaces

Conventional industrial robots are not generally designed to operate in very confined spaces. This is where our MOVI-C® modular automation platform comes into its own. It includes the engineering software, control technology, motors, and centralized and decentralized inverters. The MOVI-C® double-axis modules are able to control two motors and feature a very compact design.

Restricted freedom of movement

The confined conditions make it necessary to strike a balance between speed and reliability. The focus here is on precision and reliability of the machine without the machine's jib touching the container and thus getting damaged. While the container width is standardized, the height of the container (standard or large-area) determines the machine's operating space.

The gear units used, including the shaft-mounted helical-bevel gear units for installation in confined spaces, are largely low backlash. Precise positioning is therefore ensured. DRL../DR2L.. series asynchronous servomotors (the energy-saving IE3 designs) are used for larger loads. They have a greater inherent mass moment of inertia than conventional synchronous motors, making them ideal for installation in applications where a balanced inertia ratio between the load and motor is desired for control reasons.

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