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How drones are advancing scientific research – Phys.Org

By Aerospace, Editor's Choice, Hydropower, News, Robotics, Sensors

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have been around since the early 1900s. Originally used for military operations, they became more widely used after about 2010 when electronic technology got smaller, cheaper and more efficient, prices on cameras and sensors dropped, and battery power improved. Where once scientists could only observe earth from above by using manned aircraft or satellites, today they are expanding, developing and refining their research thanks to drones.

Drones can range from the size of airplanes to the size of bumblebees. They comprise part of that have a controller on the ground, and some form of wireless communication (usually radio signals) between the operator and the . Most are powered by lithium-polymer batteries, while larger ones may use airplane engines. Many drones are made of carbon fiber making them light and easy to land without disturbing the environment. The Federal Aviation Administration requires that drones remain within the operator’s line of sight; larger drones that fly longer distances must obtain more involved licenses that allow them to fly outside of the line of sight.

The Scientific Uses for Drones

Depending on their mission, drones are equipped with different payloads or equipment. Digital cameras can identify plants and animals, and help create 3-D maps. Thermal cameras detect heat from living creatures like animals or stressed plants, as well as from water. Hyperspectral imaging identifies features of plants and water through measuring reflected light and can interpret a wider range of wavelengths than the human eye can see. LiDAR, which measures how long it takes for an emitted pulse of light to reach a target and return to the sensor, can be used to calculate the distance to an object and its height, which is used for 3-D maps.

Drones monitor rivers to help predict flooding. They identify areas that are being illegally logged. They can discern the spread of algae in water bodies, as well as saltwater intrusion. They identify plant species and detect forest tree disease.

In the energy industry, drones are being used to identify methane leaks in oil and gas production, and to monitor pipelines and wind and solar installations.

Drones are tracking sea mammals, counting animal populations and monitoring enforcement in marine conservation areas. Duke University drones recently showed that gray seals are returning to the New England and Canadian coasts due to conservation efforts. Researchers at Ocean Alliance, a Massachusetts-based whale conservation organization, used drones flying low above a whale to capture spray from the creature’s blowhole. They then analyzed the collected DNA to study the whale’s microbiome, stress and pregnancy hormones. Drones are also being used to keep an eye on endangered species and to combat poachers. While protecting wildlife with drones seems like an obvious application, there has not been much research done on the actual effects of drones on wildlife. One study on bears showed that they were stressed by the presence of drones.

Some scientists from the Earth Institute’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory are using drones to expand their research as never before.

Alessio Rovere, junior research group leader of the Sea Level and Coastal Changes group at MARUM (University of Bremen)/Leibniz ZMT, and adjunct research scientist at Lamont-Doherty, studies coastal erosion, mangrove communities as well as the distribution of corals and the death of shallow corals (if coral bleaching is severe, drones can see it from above). In his work around the world, he uses off-the-shelf drones whose batteries last 10 to 15 minutes. The drones take many pictures at short intervals, which are later merged through software and algorithms to construct a seamless image of the area and a 3-D digital elevation model. Because coastal areas change rapidly, repeat flights at short intervals can show differences in conditions, for example, before and after a storm.

“Drones make it easy to get a very detailed view of a small area where you want to have elevation measures,” said Rovere. “If I had to do a beach survey before I started to use drones, the typical thing to do is to put a GPS on your backpack and walk along the beach to actually measure points on the beach…Now a drone can fly above our heads, cover the same area and get much higher resolution pictures. It saves you time and allows you to gather much higher detailed data.”

For small areas, it’s a powerful tool to have, he said. For big areas, he thinks it might be more convenient to have sensors mounted on a plane or use a bigger drone that can cover more area and has a longer flight time.

LiDAR Topography Scanning

Einat Lev, a Lamont assistant research professor, studies volcanoes with the aim to improve eruption hazard assessments and predictions. She used a drone equipped with a camera to take thousands of photos of the 2014-2015 lava flow of the Holuhraun volcano in Iceland, one of the largest lava flows in recorded history. The photos are being used to create a 3-D digital topographic map of the flow. LiDAR scanned the topography of the main vent and a thermal camera recorded temperatures at cracks and hot springs. Because Lev and her colleagues visited the volcano not long after it erupted, the lava flow was still unstable and hot.

“The biggest advantage of using drones is that they can take you places that are very difficult to get to…We couldn’t map the structure of the lava flows in Iceland in the interior part of it because it was just too difficult to reach, and the drone just flies above and gets us that data,” said Lev in a video about her work.

Christopher Zappa, a Lamont associate research professor, specializes in ocean and climate physics.

In the marginalized zones (transition zones between open ocean and sea ice) of the Arctic and in the tropics, he studies how the atmosphere generates waves through wind, how waves break, and how that energy injected into the ocean affects the transfer of gases, heat and energy between the ocean and the atmosphere. Zappa uses large fixed wing drones with wingspans of 10 to 12 feet and 5 to 6-foot fuselages. These sophisticated unmanned aerial systems that can fly up to 24 hours and carry payloads of 10 lbs, require two ground crew, two flight crew and a lot of technical expertise.

Zappa developed six payloads for drones, miniaturizing technology that he previously used on ships or manned aircraft:

  • Infrared imaging tells the temperature of any surface, whether ocean, ice or land. The temperature maps help determine rates of exchange between the ocean and atmosphere; the stages of ice growth, melt or refreezing; the temperature of the meltwater relative to ocean water and how sea ice drifts.
  • Visible hyperspectral camera can show when ice breaks up and sunlight penetrates, which can influence when phytoplankton blooms occur. Since phytoplankton absorbs solar radiation, this may lead to more ocean heat close to the surface, which can affect ice melt.
  • Near infrared hyperspectral imaging shows surface properties, and can reveal the ages of sea ice.
  • Broadband long wave/short wave radiation measures how much solar energy is coming from the sun, how much is absorbed by the surface and how much is reflected back to the atmosphere.
  • Meteorological turbulent fluxes measures fluxes of momentum, heat and water vapor over the ocean. This payload also includes LiDAR which can measure ocean waves that break up the ice, and determine how much ice lies out of the water and how thick is is.
  • Drone deployed micro-drifter is a soda-can-sized pod ejected from the drone. As it falls, it analyzes the atmosphere for temperature, water vapor and pressure. In the ocean, it becomes a micro-buoy and measures the temperature and salinity of the ocean surface at different depths. The pod conveys atmospheric information in real time back to the drone where it is stored. The ocean data is kept onboard the micro-pod; once it sees the drone, it transmits the information.

Zappa is currently developing sea ice radar that will measure sea ice thickness.

“I use all these instruments in general, but we always used them from platforms that are very big and bulky [ships]. One thing drones allow us to do is get away from these superstructures that may or may not affect the environment,” said Zappa. “These UAVs [drones] allow me to get away from the ship and measure everything I want to measure in undisturbed ocean.”

“Most oceanographers never cared about the top 10 meters of the ocean where the water is going to be disturbed by the ship,” he said. “But everything I do is related to the top 10 meters of the ocean and the bottom 10 meters of the atmosphere, right where they interact. So for me, it’s critical to get away from the ship or look at areas undisturbed by the ship, both in the atmospheric side and the ocean side. Drones allow me to do this very nicely.”

Markus Hilpert, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, is collaborating with Lamont-Doherty on developing a drone to measure air pollution emitted by industrial smokestacks. Most air pollution data comes from ground measurements, but drones will enable the scientists to gather data about pollution at different altitudes to study how pollutants disperse in the environment. Without a drone, it would be difficult and dangerous to gather this kind of information.

At the University of Nebraska, the NIMBUS (Nebraska Intelligent MoBile Unmanned Systems) Lab is developing a variety of capabilities for drones. Prescribed fires, traditionally done by hand or helicopter, help eradicate invasive species and control wildfires by safely getting rid of excess vegetation that might otherwise catch fire. NIMBUS has developed a drone that drops ping-pong ball-sized fireball igniters. As the drone flies, the balls of ignition material are injected with alcohol then dropped to the ground. Seconds later, they burst into flames. They can be dropped in a straight line or in a particular pattern in areas that might be too dangerous or difficult to access in other ways.


NIMBUS has also developed drones that can measure the height of crops, which allow scientists to study crop health and reaction to environmental factors. Flying close to crops, the drone uses a 2-D laser scanner to estimate crop height. Scientists here are also developing a drone that can pick leaves off crops so that they can be analyzed for crop health or to determine the identity of a weed.

The Nebraska lab’s drone-mounted water sampling system can monitor water quality, locate toxic algae and find invasive species in hard to access areas. The drone uses a one-meter long tube to suck up water as it flies over the water body. The water is stored in vials on the drone and is measured for temperature and salinity. Some day drones could potentially carry miniaturized genetic sequencing instruments that would enable them to analyze the DNA in the samples to identify disease, and endangered or .

NIMBUS is also working on a drone that can fly to a remote sensor, determine if its battery needs to be recharged and wirelessly recharge it. Since drones could do this repeatedly, they can keep all sensors operating continuously so no data is lost. Scientists are also exploring a drone that can retrieve data from underwater ocean sensors that are able to surface.

Like the NIMBUS scientists, Zappa is a pioneer pushing the boundaries of drone capabilities. He would one day like drones to be able to fly over the ocean and measure atmospheric gases with precision. He dreams of fleets of drones with different payloads flying in formation, and he has a vision for a hybrid system combining a drone with an underwater vehicle that could fly, land on the , become a submersible and sample underwater, then surface, take off and sample the atmosphere.

Drones are constantly being improved—being made smaller, cheaper and more capable. But while they have tremendous potential for scientific research, they have some drawbacks. Smaller ones cannot fly out of the controller’s line of sight, limiting the size of the area that can be studied. Larger ones need a lot of people to run them and serious technical expertise to fly them. There is also the risk of losing a drone through accidents. And because drone use in science is still in its infancy, scientists are building the guidelines as they go, finding their way programmatically, with funding agencies and with restrictions on flying them.

“What’s beautiful about drones is they do provide a new territory for making measurements which was not possible before,” said Zappa. “But you still want to use the best possible instrument and platform for whatever experiment you’re doing…. sometimes it would be the UAV, sometimes not…You want to identify the tool that’s most useful for your science goal.”

Explore further: Chinese online retailer developing one-ton delivery drones

Northrop Grumman conducts unmanned mine-hunting trials using AQS-24B sensor – Naval Technology

By Editor's Choice, Industrial automation, Military, News, Sensors

Northrop Grumman has successfully demonstrated unmanned mine-hunting capabilities with the use of high-speed AQS-24B sensors during the Belgian Defence Technology and Industry Day trials at Zeebrugge naval base.

The current exercise is a follow-on to the successful operation conducted during Unmanned Warrior in Scotland in October last year, which demonstrated the high area coverage rate (ACR) that can be attained by combining Atlas Elektronik UK’s ARCIMS unmanned surface vessel (USV) and Northrop Grumman’s AQS-24B mine hunting system.

Atlas Elektronik’s USV unit is an extremely stable platform that can be best used to tow the high-speed AQS-24B in rough seas.

The exercise highlighted the AQS-24B payload’s modularity and capacity for integration, and also demonstrated the significance of the laser line scan sensor, which functions as a gap-filler for the high-speed synthetic aperture sonar.

Northrop Grumman Mission Systems Undersea Systems vice-president Alan Lytle said: “Our team’s demonstration at Belgium North Sea unmanned mine countermeasure (MCM) trials proves that unmanned systems combined with the right payloads can perform high-speed MCM tasks, greatly reducing the mine clearance timeline while keeping naval personnel out of harm’s way.

“The ARCIMS and AQS-24B combination provides a highly effective and affordable MCM solution for our allies and theatre security partners.”

“The ARCIMS and AQS-24B combination provides a highly effective and affordable MCM solution for our allies and theatre security partners.”

Atlas Elektronik’s ARCIMS USV is a system of choice for several navies and is considered one of the most successful in-service maritime autonomous mission systems.

The vessel can be specifically customised to carry out multiple mission roles such as minesweeping, mine hunting and disposal, and coastal surveillance and anti-submarine warfare (ASW), in addition to hydrography, maritime security and force protection.

Image: Atlas Elektronik UK’s ARCIMS unmanned surface vessel. Photo: courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corporation.

AIST – 24th Annual Crane Symposium

By Crane positioning, Editor's Choice, Materials Handling

The Association for Iron & Steel Technology (AIST) symposium will deliver practical information and experiences from crane maintenance personnel, crane manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, and engineering consultants who strive to make electric overhead traveling (EOT) cranes and their runways the safest, most reliable, and most durable machinery and equipment in the industry.

Source: AIST – 24th Annual Crane Symposium

Embracing the Next Generation of Overhead Handling – Modern Materials Handling

By Automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), Editor's Choice, Industrial automation, Materials Handling, News

Although overhead handling equipment has been used for decades, it’s still evolving on a consistent basis. As system and requirements change, the focus on what’s above your facility is just as important as what’s in it. Overhead handling equipment has recently evolved to help end users achieve three primary goals: increased safety, flexibility and efficiency.With these goals in mind, suppliers are providing end users a variety of equipment options. In automation, manually operated enclosed track cranes and intelligent lifting devices are becoming more popular, as they improve safety and efficiency in a cost-effective manner. Track crane systems are transferring loads in more unique ways, while redesigned lifting components are offering end users the flexibility and protection they need on the job. And, the popularity of ergonomic systems is still rising as manufacturers release new workstation bridge cranes and monorails, gantry cranes and lever hoists that improve productivity.

Intelligent lifting devices increase safety, efficiency

As end users seek more efficient and cost-effective automation to supplement their solutions, the options continue to increase. Full automation is more affordable now than it has been in years, but semi-automation is still a more accessible option for most.Companies have begun to integrate the strengths of both solutions instead, particularly by hiring people to perform tasks, while also using less complex automation to guide and protect the workers and eliminate any potential product damage. To achieve these goals, some companies are purchasing manually operated, enclosed track cranes to provide the x- and y-axis movement of their loads (up to 2 tons at a time) at a pace they control—fast when desired, and slow and precise when they need to accurately position a load. They’re also using intelligent lifting devices that provide z-axis movements.
“Intelligent lifting devices use servo power and control to provide precise positioning, along with ‘virtual limits’ that prevent movements that could result in damage to parts, machines or people,” says Jeff McNeil, marketing manager at Gorbel. “The devices can also ‘learn’ where to allow operators to go (or not to go) by simply setting points of speed reduction, along with the upper and lower limits that the device can be moved to.”To improve employee safety, especially at a time where many back and hand injuries occur—when operators choose to move loads 75 pounds or lighter by themselves—intelligent lifting devices allow a “point of speed reduction” to be set above the spot in which they need to position their load of parts. When operators are lowering their loads and they reach this point, the devices are able to lower the downward travel speed so that the loads aren’t dropped too quickly. At this point, the operators can then hit float buttons on their devices, so the parts essentially become weightless.“Operators can then raise and lower their parts with a small amount of force and have both of their hands on their loads for positioning purposes,” McNeil explains. “If the loads aren’t in float mode, a stop point can also be used to stop the lowering of the loads so that they’re correctly positioned, thereby eliminating any part damage or risk of injury.”In doing so, end users can enjoy the short- and long-term benefits of full automation—productivity, timeliness and accuracy—without the upfront or longstanding costs of duplicating employees’ on-the-job skill sets.

New options for transportation, flexibility and protection

In addition to combining the strengths of full automation and semi-automation, companies are also looking at overhead lifting equipment in the context of the entire production system, rather than simply a means to lift and move materials. Far too often, end users have established product systems that only allow loads to be lifted inside of work cells with crane systems, and then transfer them to all other cells with carts, conveyors or forklifts—without even considering how a crane system could instead transfer loads throughout the manufacturing process entirely by itself.Using track crane systems, loads can be transferred in a variety of ways—from bridge crane to bridge crane, or from bridge cranes to monorails—through curves and switches. Essentially, the systems are similar to the layout of train tracks, aside from being overhead instead.“As they plan the entire production process, more and more companies are now looking at how they can use overhead technology like track crane systems throughout the process,” McNeil says. “After all, they can be designed to transfer loads without ever having to lower them or even use any floor-based transfer system, for that matter.”According to John Paxton, vice president and general manager of Demag Cranes and Components North America, equipment manufacturers are actually redesigning their lifting components as a means of improving modularity. Consequently, they have been able to improve the timeliness of their deliveries, lower the costs of their equipment and reduce their inventories across the entire supply chain.The designs of their lifting equipment now include connectivity functionality so operators and companies can observe (and retain records of) their equipment fault codes, maintenance history and requirements, along with usage data.“To ensure safer usage of the equipment, stepless controls—for smooth starting and stopping, anti-sway and off-center load picking prevention—have also recently been added by manufacturers,” Paxton says. “These additions show that overhead lifting equipment is continuing to evolve through new innovations, each with the end user in mind, all while providing them with more productivity and increased operational safety.”

Ergonomics: Portability, safety and efficiency

Due to their trussing with enclosed tracks, which improves trolley movement, as well as their V-shaped profiles that ensure the tracks remain free of debris, ergonomic systems like workstation bridge cranes and monorails are also increasing in popularity. Trussed tracks are lighter than typical I-beams, so their foundations aren’t as expensive for self-supporting systems, and ceiling-mounted systems don’t apply as much force on existing ceiling structures—a win-win scenario.Gantry cranes have also become popular in recent years, as they are not only lightweight, but also portable and capable of lifting heavy loads. Aluminum gantries, in particular, can easily be assembled and disassembled and carried from one site to the next in work trucks. Likewise, since they aren’t permanent structures, workstation bridge cranes can easily be transferred to different facilities, too.“Considering that lean manufacturing and ergonomic production processes are extremely popular, a lot of workstation bridge cranes and monorails are also being used in conjunction with jibs and forklifts to ensure production processes are more efficient,” says Arnie Galpin, professional engineer at Spanco. “For instance, a floor-mounted workstation bridge crane or monorail offers clearance for larger electric cranes to pass overhead, while also providing lean manufacturing processes.”Aside from portability, end users are also dedicated to creating safer workplace environments. For example, they’re now using ergonomic lift assists that have redundant safety features, which can significantly decrease the odds of parts dropping as loads are transferred to their final destinations. Additionally, other fail safe features are available to safely lower parts in the event of an air pressure loss.To further ensure safety, end users are also working to minimize another common mistake—when parts aren’t clamped properly or when the correct amount of vacuum isn’t used to safely lift parts—by using an “up disable” feature that prevents the part from being lifted at all, reducing the odds of worker injury considerably.“End users are also moving back toward integrating air balancers and pneumatic controls versus the use of integrated electronics and the complex design and maintenance of servo controls on a lift assist,” says Joe Crawford, manager of ergonomic handling and industrial lifting at Ingersoll Rand. “Air balancers and pneumatic controls are easier to maintain, more economical and more dependable—resulting in less down time compared to that of electronic components.”As safety is a top priority for overhead handling equipment manufacturers, some are taking a holistic approach by observing the ways end users interact with their products on an ergonomic level, and then conducting research to determine how equipment can be redesigned to improve safety and efficiency, says Jeff Armfield, executive director of global product strategy and product development at Columbus McKinnon.With workplace safety and productivity in mind, Columbus McKinnon has released two new overhead handling products: a ratchet lever hoist with a unique crank feature, and a pendant with rocker switch activation.“The crank feature allows end users to operate it with a full range of arm motion, which provides productivity and safety benefits in lifting and pulling applications,” Armfield says. “The pendant, meanwhile, has been designed to fit within the contours of the human hand, unlike traditional brick-like pendants. Its inherent shape, combined with rocker switch activation, allows more precise control with minimal hand fatigue.”“Regardless of the products, overhead handling equipment manufacturers must continue to identify opportunities where we can help end users work smarter, safer and more efficiently, and, in turn, continue to increase companies’ bottom lines,” Armfield adds.

Companies mentioned in this article:
Columbus McKinnon Corporation
Demag Cranes and Components
Ingersoll Rand

Tire Industry Automation: Now a Necessity – Robotic Magazine

By Automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), Industrial automation, News
Tire Industry Automation Context

Smithers Rapra, one of the world’s leading sources of information on polymers, plastics, rubber and adhesives, recently published a report stating that the global tire manufacturing industry is set to grow almost at a pace of four percent per year from now through to 2022. There are many key factors and industry trends that are driving this growth, but a large percent of that growth can be contributed to the innovations in tire technology which are then furthering advancements in automation within tire manufacturing and distribution facilities.

These advancements are not only benefiting new facilities (Greenfields), but also existing facilities (Brownfields) that were developed with only manual operations in mind. Large tire retailers are beginning to realize what automating their entire facilities or even a few parts of their handling process can do to their bottom lines. Over the last decade, automation has touched each area in the tire manufacturing/handling process and also allowing distribution center operators to realize what this can do to their bottom lines as well.

Automating Each Step in the Process

Legacy Brownfields were designed with manual processes for the handling of their tires, and as a result have typically been perceived as automation-unfriendly. However, with advancements in automation, modules can be customized to each process and each facility, causing an accelerated adoption rate.

Tire manufacturing process areas

Breaking Down the Process Areas
  1. The first process is the automatic storage and transportation of raw rubber and other basic ingredients. During this process, raw materials are placed into automatic storage and retrieval systems (ASRS).
  2. Raw materials are then delivered by automation to various mixing and preparation processes to be made into compounded materials for component preparation.
  3. These materials are then delivered by automation to component preparation machines.
  4. The next step is the green tire building process, which receives components automatically.
  5. From there green tires are automatically unloaded from tire building machines (TBMs) by robots.
  6. The green tires are then automatically moved by green tire storage and retrieval gantries or crane style AS/RS systems.
  7. Automatic guided vehicles (AGV) or an overhead electrified monorail systems (EMS) then deliver green tires to the curing press.
  8. After curing, final quality checks on the finished products are completed within fully automated cells.
  9. The tires are then sorted and placed on pallets using gantry robots.
  10. Order fulfillment and shipping automation is the final step. This is where the customer orders are picked by gantry systems and then sequenced into a trailer for customer delivery.

For facilities that do not have the ability to automate all at once, they can deploy modular automation in sequential steps. Modular automation is able to be built and configured in elemental steps to meet their planning requirements. The systems are modular from raw materials to palletizing. There’s a shorter delivery and installation time due to this standardization concept and can be easily applicable to any factory.

Experiencing the Benefits

Whether automating part or all of the handling process, customers are seeing the necessary return on investments (ROI). They’ve begun to see the following savings and benefits:

  • Total process flow control and visualization of manufacturing/distribution processes at each stage.
  • Increase in productivity. For example, customers can manufacture 5 to 10 percent more tires per day by getting the right Work-in-Process (WIP) and/or product in the right place at the right time.
  • With complete communication between the facility’s WMS, MES and ERP systems as well as interface to PLCs, robot controllers and upper host, facilities have 100 percent tracing of total tire production history. This means they can quickly see the progression of the tires from materials and components to green tires (GT) to finished tires (FT).
  • Real-time data for inventory management, which enables 100 percent availability of materials, components and tires in each process.
  • With an optimized layout design, less space is needed. This means customers can minimize the required factory footprint, which in turn minimizes the need for large capital investments.
  • Just-in-Time (JIT) delivery to different processes areas as well as to the end customer.
  • Streamlined material flow that allows facilities managers to minimize buffering, have less WIP and maximize efficiency.
  • Reduction in waste and scrap.
  • Better ergonomics and allocation of human resources. This results in fewer health and safety labor-related problems.
  • Flexibility with operations and processes. Customers have ability to make automatic changes based on needs and demands.

Automation with total process flow control

Implementing for the Future

With rising customer demands and tire sales predicted to spike, tire manufactures are seeking ways to maintain their share of the market by implementing the latest automated systems or upgrading individual processes, which in turn gives them more of a chance to maintain/gain market share.

Because they’re tailored for each manufacturing and distribution process and can be installed in new and existing plants (as either a one-time deployment or independently through scalable, modular automation implementations), the time is now to automate.  It ensures your bottom line keeps stacking up.

Author Bio:

Don Heelis is a mechanical engineer and senior systems sales manager for Cimcorp, a manufacturer and integrator of turnkey robotic gantry-based order fulfillment and tire handling solutions. With more than 25 years of experience, Heelis helps customers develop fully automated systems that increase efficiency, accuracy and throughput for manufacturing, warehouses and distribution centers around the world.

Advance Introduces Rover, the Next Generation Automated Storage and Retrieval System – DC Velocity

By Automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), Editor's Choice, Industrial automation, Manufacturing, Materials Handling, News

Advance Storage Products, the leading provider of pallet racking solutions, introduces Rover, the next generation of Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS). Rover is a highly configurable, 3-dimensional shuttle-based AS/RS that is cost effective, flexible and scalable. The system is ideal for manufacturers and distributors, including those in the food, beverage, and frozen food industries whose operations demand flexible high density storage with great throughput.

According to John Krummell, President and CEO of Advance, “Rover provides extremely high throughput and is easily reconfigured to accommodate changing storage needs, SKU profiles and production demands. Rover can help distribution and production facility operators dramatically improve the storage density and performance of their warehouses.”

Rover advantages include:

  • High Density: From selective to deep lane storage, Rover provides the ability to configure lane depths to match slotting needs
  • Modularity: Easily expanded throughput (additional vehicles or VRC’s) or storage capacity (racking)
  • High Throughput: Multiple vehicles can work in a single aisle allowing throughput unmatched by traditional AS/RS
  • Design Flexibility: Vary storage depths within a lane, configure to existing building footprints, and output to multiple locations
  • Single Source: As the direct producer of the vehicles, system control software and storage rack system, Advance is in a unique position to provide unmatched service at a very competitive cost position

rover image

To learn more, visit or call Kevin Darby at 714.657.1608.

About Advance Storage Products

Advance Storage Products, headquartered in Huntington Beach, California and manufacturing in Cedartown, Georgia and Salt Lake City, Utah, is a market leader in quality warehouse rack systems.  For more than 50 years, Advance has been providing design, engineering, and project management for a full line of substantial material handling installations.

Click here for more information

How to keep a machine in position – Control Design

By Automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), Editor's Choice, Industrial automation, Manufacturing, Materials Handling, News

The starting point for linear measurements in a machine is understanding the position requirements to properly assemble, machine or otherwise affect the final product.

Are you going to crash and damage expensive tooling or just one manufactured part?

In machine automation terms, linear measurement is not just a measurement of length; it’s a one-dimensional measurement of a position. However, two- and three-dimensions of measurement should be considered because error, in any dimension, can change the measurement based on position. As a linear actuator, gantry or pallet moves, the positional error can change, as well; some error adds up, but some reliably repeats. There is much to consider when adding position feedback to a machine controller.

There are many ways to determine position of an actuator or part in machine automation. Some are simple; some are complex; some are accurate; some are not. The starting point for linear measurements in a machine is understanding the position requirements to properly assemble, machine or otherwise affect the final product. What are the part assembly requirements, and how tight are final part tolerances?

Do you need accuracy or repeatability in your linear measurement? Yes. You need both, but sometimes one is more important than the other. What about linearity and resolution? Sure. Which is more important? It likely depends on the measurement device, sensor sales guy and the application. Sometimes several are important, but one bad apple can upset the cart. What do you have to have in the way of machine position measurement?

Accuracy, the correctness of the measurement at any point in the measurement range, is important for CNC machining applications. In this case the part needs to be made to a tolerance, so the measurement needs to be close to the actual value in maybe five or more axes. Accuracy is critical in this case. However, good repeatability—how close is the measurement each time it is made—may be all that is necessary in other applications. An actuator may only need to move to a repeatable position each automatic machine cycle, for example. And, to add another term, the Six-Sigma and metrology guys like to refer to  repeatability as precision, and then they’ll talk reproducibility. Have fun with that.

When it comes to linearity, I think of it as accuracy. A non-contact magnetostrictive position sensor, for example, may have a linearity of +/-0.02% of full scale. That’s approximately +/-100 µm linearity for a 500 mm measurement range sensor. The specification lists repeatability of this device at +/-3µm. It’s 33 times more repeatable than its full-scale linearity, which is the measurement accuracy of the analog position output from the device. A stepper motor on a machine using this device to close its position loop would have very good repeatability moving to within 3µm of individual position set points. The same device may not be very accurate if programmed to move 100 mm from any relative position in its travel range, based on its specifications.

Resolution of the measurement device plays into accuracy, repeatability and linearity. Too coarse of resolution on a magnetic scale sensor or too few of pulses per revolution in an encoder may hurt accuracy and repeatability. The resolution in an encoder or analog circuit must be finer than the measurement tolerance for proper assembly or machining. A resolution of 20% to 30% of the measurement tolerance usually works. Some will say even a finer resolution is needed, but too much can cause noise in the measurement.

A rule of thumb, often heard in machine shops, is that the measurement repeatability should be 10 times better than required for the application. The end results should pass an in-house gage repeatability and reproducibility (GR&R). Results will differ, so study up on some statistics and other good measurement practices for more information.

Got Position?

Not to delve too deeply into component considerations, but there are many forms of linear measurement in automation. My favorite is machine vision. Calibrate the image pixels to engineering units and then calibrate a robot’s coordinates to the image plane as well and, voilà, vision-guided robots. Okay, that’s two dimensional but it is very common today.

Some linear measurement in automation is like a tape measure. The linear encoder, magnetostrictive position sensor and magnetic scale position sensor are examples. However, a rotary encoder can also provide linear measurement to determine a machine actuator’s position. A cable actuated position sensors or draw wire pull cord are examples. An encoder on a servo motor for positioning a linear actuator or slide is another example. The actual linear position of the actuator is calculated based on the encoder count and actuator mechanics, such as gear ratio or ball screw pitch. The mechanical specifications of the actuator, encoder resolution, servo-motor tuning and even the servo-to-ball-screw coupling can affect accuracy and repeatability. The position errors can and will add up, and approaching a position from the opposite direction can make it worse.

Other linear measurement devices include an LVDT that must contact the measured surface and laser displacement measurement, which is contact-free. Both devices and many similar measurement methods provide very good accuracy and repeatability specifications, in many cases less than a few microns.

Whether measuring the surface of a semiconductor die with sub-micron accuracy or the position of a gantry over a 12-station, 54-foot tin plating line, there is a linear-measurement device to do the job. Carefully consider the cost of failed, inaccurate or non-repeatable measurements and find the actual position.