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FPInnovations Autonomous Forklift Challenge Q&A

  • Who is eligible to participate in the Challenge?

Any organization is eligible to participate in the program so long as there are demonstrable benefits to developing and commercializing the innovation in Western Canada. Innovators applying to participate do not require a current working relationship with FPInnovations or any company in the forestry sector and is not limited to Canadian owned companies.

  • Is there an option to purchase a more suitable forklift as the platform?

Multiple options, including pure electric, fuel-cell, or gas, are viable.

  • Are there any fees for an integrator to participate?

After the initial challenge proposals, and if you are selected to participate in the next phases, there is some expected contribution on your part.

  • Are the challenge solution submissions limited to Canadian companies?

Canadian companies have right of first refusal (is this actually implemented? How will it be handled?), after which, if the field of options is too limited, the challenge is opened up to World markets.

  • Will there be feedback on submissions?

Participants interested in receiving feedback on their submission will have an opportunity for a debrief meeting with Foresight at the conclusion of the selection process.

  • How will Intellectual Property be treated?

Background Intellectual property of an applicant will remain the property of the applicant. Applicants’ participation will be governed by an agreement with the industry partners that will address intellectual property development at the Field Trial stage.

  • What role will past references play in the evaluation process? 

We will use as much help as we can in evaluations of proposals. If there are references in the proposals, we would take advantage of talking to those references.

  • Are partnerships between potential solution providers actively encouraged?

Yes, we are looking for a complete solution that hits the objectives of the proposal.

  • Are there commitments from the end-user after proof of concept and financial justification is successful?

After these steps have been taken, the following steps are having a system to get the amount of the forklifts required for the mills working. Having a service contract and other long-term commitments would also be taken into consideration.

  • Why not just start using pallets?

Using pallets can be taken into consideration if it represents cost savings.

  • How many units are in a stack of the 8300lb MDF product?

A single unit is 8300lbs. Norbord normally stacks OSB units 6 high.

  • What is the OSB size?

Dimensions for OSB units: W: 4 feet, L: 96” to 145”, H:30” to 39”, Weight up to 4,600 lb.

  • Does the MDF/Plywood unit has a similar size as OSB?

MDF is 6ft- 20ft length and 5ft-6ft depth, with a weight of 2300lbs to 8300lbs. (variable package size, different shape bundles going into the stacks).

Plywood is a fixed 4x8ft 2200lbs to 3000lbs.

* Package sizes and weights for plywood are fairly fixed but OSB packages vary quite a bit.

  • Do all products have a wrapping?

There are wrapped and unwrapped loads. Plywood can’t have a bag over it but some goes out raw. MDF has different colour wraps as well as raw material. I cannot speak for OSB but from a few of the pictures that Rob shared some material was painted and not wrapped.

  • Is each package recognized as a SKU?  Can we get load dims and weight for each SKU?

Some use RFID some use just paper. Potential to get dims / weight from each SKU.

  • Does each facility have one type of product or mixed types? OSB/MDF/Plywood?

Typically one type of product. If it’s an MDF plant, they have MDF (different sizes), and if it’s a Plywood plant, they produce standard size plywood packages.

  • Does the Challenge prefer 1) modifying an existing forklift with extra sensors, or 2) building a new, purpose-built AGV?

Depending on the proposal and what is capable of, the challenge is open to both solutions.

  • Why is the challenge limited the AGV technology?

The AGV systems integrate with the existing infrastructure and there is no interest in modifying the existing warehouse because of the overhead capital.

  • What is missing in the current AGV market technology offering that is needed for this application?

There are a number of companies offering AGV solutions, but none tailored to this application/weights/ package sizes. Most are very application-specific.

  • Why are you not using existing AGV technologies?

Most companies are focused on palletized loads. In the Challenge definition, industry and expert consultation yielded the key findings for this specific application; we want to keep submissions open to either modifying existing AGV solutions, or be open to new solutions.

  • With respect to facilities modification, is it acceptable for minor retrofit? (i.e. installation of beacons/mesh network nodes, etc.)

Yes, as long as these retrofits facilitate navigation, make the system work and don’t represent major structural overhauls. Warehouse modifications (beacons, etc.) are acceptable provided the cost is justified.  For example, building a new high-bay warehouse with overhead cranes is too expensive to be justified.

  • What is the user story? (i.e. supervisor walks in, maintenance checks, loads new map of the warehouse, uploads to forklift (how is this done?), forklift does tasks (speed limitations? is this only done during work hours?), forklift senses maintenance issues (what is the protocol for this?), end-of-day protocols.
    • Packages come out of loading station, in the same location with the same gap for the forklifts to come in.
    • Forklift has to come to the loading station, pick up the package.
    • Move to the destination, drop off the package.
    • Stack package-on-package
    • Forklifts need to take packages away promptly
      • Line can’t be held up by packages filling loading station
    • Some cooperation with human forklift drivers
      • Human drivers would step in if needed to speed up the pickup process
      • Under no circumstances can packages start piling up at the end of the line.
  • What is the height of the warehouse typically?

Typically only stack 6 high. The old plywood mill is 15 to 25 feet tall. Both MDF plants are 30-40ft tall.  

  • Are there limitations to adjusting dunnage height and how this might affect load height limitations with freight loading and accessing freight trailers and/or rail car?

Increased dunnage height adds cost and will limit what can go on a rail car. The typical dunnage is a grooved economy 2×4. We could go a little thicker but that is not ideal. Dunnage machines are limited to what they can handle as well, but I do not know the exact spec. Dunnage placement is key for sagging loads.  

  • How much debris should we expect on the warehouse floor (mud/snow/dust/wood splits)?

There is a cleaning system, so there should not be a lot of debris. Dim lighting and dust conditions should be considered. (Lighting varies from site to site. Fairly dimly lit. Fairly consistent lighting, but high pallets/shadows).

  • How many pickup stations are there, and approximately how many lifts need to be picked up per hour per station?

A typical OSB finishing line has 1 or 2 pickup points (see warehouse drawing).  A typical production rate is 32 OSB units per hour with a peak rate of 40 units per hour.  The pickup stations vary to the type of mill. MDF for this challenge is 1 maybe 2 pick-up locations with variable drop off locations in the Wearhouse.

The finishing department runs 2 lifts 24hours per day, 7 days a week and a 3rd lift Monday thru Friday 24hours per day that the finishing leads operate.

  • How many shifts per day do the facilities operate?

Varies 2 to 4 shifts depending on the operation and we go up and down depending on markets. I know that Norbord is 24×7 with maybe 2 weeks down for maintenance. Which is similar to our MDF process.

  • How many hours per shift?

Varies but MDF and OSB (Rob could correct me) 24×7 with 1-2 weeks down for shut down.

  • How many days per week does the facility operate? 

Plywood shuts down shipping on the weekends (Other parts of the business run 24×7) OSB and MDF are a continuous process.

  • How many hours per year does the facility recognize the current forklifts receive in operating time?  The facilities would know this information as it influences how the assets are managed. 

MDF Shipping forklifts average 2400 hrs/year, Packaging line forklifts are about 3200 hrs/year. Plywood ranges from 7500-8200 hrs/yr, 24 hr operations with a few exceptions of maintenance or weekend production.

  • Can multiple lifts be sitting at one pickup station and if so, how many?

Multiple OSB units are often sitting at one pickup location (see the photo “OSB unit pick-up”).  However, the OSB units are not stacked at the pick-up point.  The units are lined-up on the conveyor and currently, there is no doubler for the units.

To save time, most drivers pick up single units at the pick-up point and stack them 2-high on the floor near the pick-up point.  Then the driver moves the 2 units into the warehouse.

  • How many forklifts are currently being used to move material from the pickup to the stacks?

Varies from sites to site. Norbord runs Forklifts 24×7. There are up to 15 to 20 forklifts at any given site varying in size. West Fraser for this challenge has 10 Forklifts. When we scale up to 35,000lb Forklifts we have many more for the sawmills. However, that is not in scope for the challenge as that is outdoor application and will be a bigger challenge. MDF Shipping forklifts average 2400 hrs/year, Packaging line forklifts are about 3200 hrs / year. Plywood ranges from 7500-8200 hrs/yr, 24 hr operations with a few exceptions of maintenance or weekend production.

  • What is the available storage space?

Both warehouses do not have a lot of storage space, so storage orientation is changed to accommodate whatever orders are being processed.

  • Roughly, how far away is the storage area from the pick-up location?

10m up to 200-250m Variable. 2 min forklift cycle roughly at 15km/hr (500m round trip)

  • Can multiple forklifts be sitting at a loading station, and if so how many?

Some loading station will have 2, others only have one. Everything has to be fairly tightly timed. production has to be shut down to move the lifts out of the way, so this is something that can’t happen. 

  • What is the frequency of the loads ready for pickup? is it consistent?

Very consistent unless the Mill has to go down for some reason.

  • What is the current speed limit inside the warehouse?

There is not an established speed limit, however, the AGV must operate in a smooth safe manner and be able to stop and turn without dumping the load. Depending on the operation, it can vary between 8-10km/hr, to 20km/hr governed.

  • What is the speed and round-trip time?

2-minute forklift cycles, at 15 km/hr (500m round trip).

  • Will human-operated and autonomous forklifts operate on the same task?

The autonomous forklift will require a feature to allow a person to come in and deal with a task, and also interact with people working in the same area. AGV’s and manned-forklifts will need to work in tandem.  If we succeed to automate the “put-away” function with AGV’s, there will still be manned forklifts moving OSB units out of the warehouse and loading trucks. AGV’s will have to interact with forklifts as packages dropped off by AGV will be picked up by a driven forklift.

If the AGV is not able to keep up, human-driven forklifts will have to intervene. Also, when AGV is dropping off packages, human drivers will pickup and loading these onto trucks/trains.

  • How many people and vehicles can the AGV be expect to interact/work around in the warehouse?

Quite variable. Can be minimized by picking different routes, but there will be at least one forklift unloading products as another picks them up. Other Mill people have to come through for separate tasks.

  • Is there charging or refueling infrastructure available for fuel cell and battery forklifts?

Not currently. All running petrol at the moment, but can include this as part of the cost if part of the solution.

  • What is the cost per Kw/h of electricity that we should reference?

For BC: $0.04535 per kWh (multiply this by the expected energy use of the forklifts. Be sure to include the charger efficiency in this ~90%). 

  • Do wireless technologies work reliably in the facility?  (i.e wireless, radio system)

The mills have a reliable UHF radio system. The Wi-Fi network is currently used for mobile bar-code readers and is reliable and has excellent coverage. Cell Network cell phone reception is good enough for voice calls, however, using a personal cell phone is prohibited especially when operating mobile equipment

  • Will we have to comply with CSA “Z” specs 434-16, 432-16 (These are machine safety specs and robot interaction and safety specs)?

AGVs need to follow all applicable worksafe and OS&S standards that mobile equipment needs to follow. 

  • Will people who work in the warehouse be wearing high visibility garment?

Yes, full PP is required in all sites.

  • Is compliance part of the sprint scope?

Compliance would need to be in place for any live site. Whether that comes in the sprint or field trial phase is not clear.

If the AGV cannot pick up lifts fast enough, a driven forklift will have to assist because if too many lifts are waiting at the loading station, the whole operation has to shut down