Innovation Europe
March 08, 2021 | 6 min read

Drive into the Future


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The cutting-edge autonomous trucks operating in ICL’s Ladenburg site in Germany transport materials without any need of human intervention and stir great interest in the industry.

Those who visit ICL’s site in Ladenburg, Germany, meet with an unusual sight — a truck travelling back and forth between the warehouses, transporting materials without a driver. These autonomous trucks, which were nicknamed “Wiesel”, was developed by the Ladenburg site to provide solutions for the company’s logistic and operational needs.

ICL’s Ladenburg site interacts with many clients from numerous industries. It puts phosphoric acid, which arrives from the company’s plants in Israel, to various uses for clients in the food, commodities and detergent industries.

Thomas Rieger, who is responsible for planning the site’s supply chain, production planning, raw material storage, packing and transport, says that the need to develop the autonomous truck was born out of the strict, new product safety standards that came into effect around the world in 2009. In order to meet these standards, the company planned an innovative logistical center that was launched in 2011. An important part of planning the center had to do with the need to rethink the method of transporting materials between the different warehouses and service points of the production facilities.

“Till the development of the autonomous truck, the internal transport system used driver-operated forklifts,” says Rieger. “The forklifts worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week in any weather. This method of transporting materials was relatively costly and was not meeting the global food safety standards. Rain, bird droppings and other microbiological contamination risks could easily damage the materials transported by the forklifts and cause us not to be able to meet the quality standards required of us, and as a result we were under risk to lose significant business,” he notes.

In light of this situation, and as part of creating the new center, ICL came up with the idea of developing an autonomous internal transport array which would be completely computerized. The driverless trucks, made by Mercedes-Benz, were developed together with an external company and launched in 2011. To be able to use them, special routes as well as special docking-stations for hermetic-encapsulated product handling for autonomous vehicles were developed.

Rieger notes that since the trucks’ launch, around nine years ago, the company has not met with any issue regarding their operation. “The autonomous truck is highly efficient, cost-effective and meets all of the standards of quality and safety,” he says. “Past and present ICL executives, among them Akiva Moses, Asher Grinbaum and Ofer Lifshitz, have tested the trucks’ safety themselves. They bravely jumped in front of the trucks to make sure that they would brake in time, and they did.”

Rieger adds that the autonomous truck, which returned the money invested within 18 months, stir great interest. According to him, they have received wide media coverage and many visitors from the industry arrive at the site to view the system and learn how to implement and use it.

Rieger says that in order to keep streamlining the service provided for clients, the site is always working on developing innovative work methods. These days, the site is developing its next autonomous project — autonomous forklifts which runs under the project name ‘Robotics’ as a further step into Industry 4.0. At the same time, it is implementing tools to support the transfer to digital and automatic work with the goal of streamlining processes and reducing the amount of paper used on site. Innovation is the name of the game.

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