(19)
(11)EP 3 209 583 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
24.06.2020 Bulletin 2020/26

(21)Application number: 15853342.2

(22)Date of filing:  19.10.2015
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
B65G 1/04(2006.01)
B65D 25/22(2006.01)
G05D 1/02(2020.01)
B65G 1/06(2006.01)
G05D 1/06(2006.01)
B65D 81/20(2006.01)
(86)International application number:
PCT/IB2015/058031
(87)International publication number:
WO 2016/063197 (28.04.2016 Gazette  2016/17)

(54)

RACKING SYSTEM

REGALSYSTEM

SYSTÈME DE RANGEMENT


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 20.10.2014 ZA 201407541

(43)Date of publication of application:
30.08.2017 Bulletin 2017/35

(73)Proprietor: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth 6031 (ZA)

(72)Inventors:
  • BESTIC, Adriane Michele
    6070 Port Elizabeth (ZA)
  • NAUDE, Ashley Mark
    6257 East London (ZA)
  • PEARD, Shuldham Shaun
    6001 Port Elizabeth (ZA)
  • SEPHTON, Christopher John
    6001 Port Elizabeth (ZA)

(74)Representative: Regimbeau 
20, rue de Chazelles
75847 Paris Cedex 17
75847 Paris Cedex 17 (FR)


(56)References cited: : 
WO-A1-2013/167907
WO-A1-2014/090684
DE-A1-102009 017 241
JP-U- S4 983 778
US-B1- 8 721 251
WO-A1-2013/167907
WO-A1-2014/090684
DE-A1-102009 017 241
US-A1- 2014 288 696
US-B1- 8 721 251
  
      
    Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


    Description

    CROSS-REFERENCE(S) TO RELATED APPLICATIONS



    [0001] This application claims priority from South African provisional patent application number 2014/07541 filed on 20th October 2014.

    FIELD OF THE INVENTION



    [0002] This invention relates to a racking system in which one or more automated guided vehicles handle the placement, sorting and retrieval of packages within an automated storage system. Such storage systems are the heart of any logistics hub or operation in which packages are received, temporarily stored, and dispatched to a recipient.

    [0003] The invention is applicable to any desired duration of storage including warehouse systems in which temporary storage of packages takes place for periods of time between a few minutes and say 24 hours as well as for substantially longer periods of time of the order of days, weeks or even months.

    [0004] Whilst a storage system may be supported by a network of conveyors and peripheral package handling devices, the racking system is intended to deal specifically with the placement, reorganisation, prioritization, movement and retrieval of packages within a racking installation.

    [0005] It is to be noted that the term package in this specification is used in a broad sense and should be interpreted as including numerous different types of items including items of commerce, for example items purchased over the Internet, important letters, valuable documents, goods, parts, assembled components and any other items that are capable of being packaged in a transportable manner and conforming to size and weight limitations of the relevant system.

    BACKGROUND TO THE INVENTION



    [0006] The ecommerce and courier revolution requires that a warehouse system that receives, stores, and despatches packages operates as efficiently as possible in order to satisfy customer expectations. A few additional and unnecessary minutes in a warehouse system could make the difference between commencing a journey today or tomorrow and the consequence of the latter could be the difference between a satisfied customer and a dissatisfied customer.

    [0007] Furthermore, a delayed arrival of a purchase often equates to a lost future sale in view of the wide range of suppliers generally available to a customer carrying out e-purchases, for example over the Internet.

    [0008] A modern day sorting and distribution centre may be required to handle well in excess of 100,000 packages per hour. An automated warehouse for sorting and despatching packages is a highly complex infrastructure as it needs to automatically combine packages for co-destination shipment and that complicates the sorting operation substantially. Packages are, for storage purposes, located in open topped boxes that can easily be handled by automated guided vehicles that do automated placement and retrieval in a storage racking system.

    [0009] In a modern courier and e-commerce distribution centre, the time scale is rather short and the applicant has worked on the basis that ultra-short term storage would be up to about 10 minutes; short term storage would be from about 10 to about 30 minutes; medium term storage would be from about 30 to about 60 minutes; and longer term storage would be from about 1 hour to about 24 hours. In courier facilities, any longer term storages may optionally be routed to a different zone or warehouse system that may be attached to, or form part of, the same greater storage facility.

    [0010] In e-commerce fulfilment centres, factory parts stores and retail distribution warehouses, the system may be used to store items for a substantially longer period of time, ranging from days to weeks and even months in the case of infrequently purchased items.

    [0011] Whilst sorting and optimization algorithms are limited only by the clock speed of the super computers on which they run, implementing the physical movement of the packages requires complex mechanisms and storage solutions. Current linear storage solutions do not permit dynamic reorganisation and tracking of packages. An automated storage and retrieval system operating only in vertical rows and consequently only able to manoeuvre in a single horizontal direction whilst operating in said rows, does not allow for packages to be simultaneously placed and/or retrieved and/or rearranged. Existing automated guided vehicles that place and retrieve packages from a storage racking system are only able to move on a single track on a particular level and can only be moved between levels by lifts at the ends of the tracks. Thus, two automated guided vehicles are unable to operate at the same level in the same row at the same time as they are unable to overtake or pass one another.

    [0012] A commercially available system of this general nature is that produced by VANDERLANDE INDUSTRIES of the Netherlands.

    [0013] United States published patent application no US20090265031 describes an example of that general type of warehouse system too.

    [0014] DE 102009 017 241 describes a warehouse system in which automated guided vehicles are movable in two directions in the horizontal plane to store and retrieve boxes or other items from a racking system to or from an upper storage layer or a lower storage layer. However, there are more than one storage layers juxtaposed next to each other and vertical movement of boxes or other items needs to be achieved by moving the boxes to the periphery of the racking system where they can be fed onto vertical conveyor or lifting system. It is therefore not possible to move one box, for example, directly from one storage layer to any other storage layer without moving it to the periphery to achieve a required vertical movement.

    [0015] US8721251 describes an automated guided vehicle in which the vehicle itself is moved vertically between storage layers and the resultant warehouse system is rather complex and would be extremely difficult to manage.

    [0016] WO2014090684 describes an automated guided vehicle that is movable in two directions at right angles to each other and where in the vehicle is used to feed boxes or other items from above into stacks thereof. This arrangement does not satisfy many requirements as boxes in the middle of a stack are substantially inaccessible and many other boxes will have to be removed in order to access a particular one that is in the middle.

    [0017] WO2013167907 describes a similar arrangement to that described in WO2014090684.

    [0018] An aim of the present invention is to improve economies of scale by overcoming, at least to some extent, limitations of existing systems that are known to the applicant and to enable or enhance the speed of amalgamation of the shipment of online sales with point-to-point courier services, as may be required.

    [0019] The preceding discussion of the background to the invention is intended only to facilitate an understanding of the present invention. It should be appreciated that the discussion is not an acknowledgment or admission that any of the material referred to was part of the common general knowledge in the art as at the priority date of the application.

    [0020] In this specification the term "box" or its plural "boxes" is intended to mean any container with or without a lid and includes what are commonly referred to as crates and other open or closed storage containers.

    SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION



    [0021] In accordance with this invention there is provided a racking system according to the appended claim 1.

    [0022] Further features of the invention provide for the storage guides to be vertical rails arranged to align with vertical rails provided on automated guided vehicles temporarily so that a box can be guided for movement between an automated guided vehicle and a storage position by moving a box along temporarily aligned rails.

    [0023] Yet further features of the invention provide for the racking system to include one or more automated guided vehicles having a drive arrangement for a support wheel assembly that enables the automated guided vehicle to travel selectively in at least two horizontal directions at right angles to each other and parallel to sides of the automated guided vehicle, the automated guided vehicle being of a generally square outer peripheral shape in plan view and having a box receiving aperture in a central region thereof for receiving at least one box to be transported by the automated guided vehicle moved vertically into or out of the aperture in either an upwards or a downwards direction relative to the support wheel assembly; supports for at least intermittently supporting at least one storage box located within the box receiving aperture, guides for guiding a box into and out of the box receiving aperture in a vertical direction, a lifting device associated with the automated guided vehicle for moving a box vertically into and out of the box receiving aperture by a distance in excess of a height of the box and to enable boxes to be passed vertically directly from one automated guided vehicle to another automated guided vehicle, and a controller for controlling movement of the automated guided vehicle in a horizontal plane and for controlling operation of the lifting device.

    [0024] Further features of the invention provide for the automated guided vehicle to have a transmitter and receiver to provide for two way communication between the automated guided vehicle and a centralized control computer for controlling multiple automated guided vehicles and for transmitting and receiving locational data of automated guided vehicles and boxes; for the box receiving aperture to be dimensioned to receive a possible two juxtaposed boxes and more preferably a possible four juxtaposed boxes each of generally rectangular shape in plan view; and for the automated guided vehicle to be fitted with one part of a contactless wireless energy transfer system the other part of which is to be associated with a co-operating racking system or, alternatively, for the automated guided vehicle to be powered by batteries, ultra-capacitors or other energy storage arrangement with any necessary co-operant charging docks or energy transfer points being arranged on a co-operating racking system.

    [0025] In one variation of the invention the lifting device comprises parallel arms rotatable in unison about one of their ends and having at the other ends retractable journals for cooperating with horizontal lifting channels in the sides of the boxes wherein the parallel arms are arranged to be located along the sides of adjacent boxes, in use. The lifting device is configured to move boxes vertically in relation to storage positions both below and above the automated guided vehicle and the supports may be vertical rails fixed to the automated guided vehicle and serving also as guides for confining boxes to substantially vertical movement relative to the automated guided vehicle, the vertical rails preferably having formations for cooperation with co-operant formations on a box.

    [0026] In another variation of the invention that is especially suitable for lifting and lowering of boxes between vertically aligned automated guided vehicles at different transfer levels in a racking system, the lifting device comprises sets of opposite and inwardly directed wheels with or without belts on each side of each box receiving aperture of the automated guided vehicle such that the wheels or belts face inwards towards the box receiving aperture. The wheel sets or belts extend upwards or downwards in order to grip the sides or corners of a box by way of cooperative vertical guides in the sides of the box such that, when driven, they raise or lower a associated box from the box storage location in a storage level of the racking system and raise or lower the box in a vertical motion, optionally to an aligned upper or lower automated guided vehicle in succession until a required storage or discharge level is reached, whereat the last receiving automated guided vehicle places the box in the designated storage location in the racking system or a discharge conveyor or vehicle. The wheels or belts may have a tapered shape in cross-section so that a wedging action is achieved when the wheel or belt is urged into a co-operating vertical V-shaped groove in a side or end wall of a box. Other forms of inter-engagement between a wheel or belt and a side or bottom wall of a box are also possible.

    [0027] Still further features of the invention provide for the support wheel assembly to include four wheels generally at the corners of the square automated guided vehicle and wherein each wheel is rotatable about its own horizontal axis between two terminal positions and is mounted on a cuff that is rotatable about a vertical axis with a drive assembly that includes a motor that can selectively drive the cuff from one terminal position through 90° to a second terminal position so that the automated guided vehicle can travel in a direction at right angles to the corresponding first terminal position without changing its orientation; for the drive assembly to include cooperating beveled gears connected to a motor drive so as to be capable of driving the wheel cuff between its two terminal positions when a releasable lock or brake is disengaged and of driving the wheel itself when the releasable lock or brake is engaged; and for the releasable lock or brake to be a solenoid operated element that is engaged in the locked position with respect to a co-operating formation, typically in the cuff.

    [0028] As an alternative to that arrangement, it is possible to use two sets of four wheels with each wheel of each set having its axis of rotation at right angles (in the horizontal plane) to the axis of rotation of a corresponding wheel in the other set and wherein the automated guided vehicle is supported by either one set or the other set according to the direction in which automated guided vehicle is to be moved in any manner that is known in the art, or any other manner.

    [0029] Still further features of the invention provide for the racking system to include one or more storage boxes having two sides and two ends wherein outer faces of two opposite sides or two opposite ends have either horizontal lifting channels formed therein for engagement by retractable journals carried by lifting arms of an automated guided vehicle as defined as the one variation of the invention above with the lifting channels optionally being reinforced with steel or other durable material, or vertical surfaces or formations such as vertical flat friction surfaces , an integral vertical rack formation and truncated V-shaped grooves for engagement by wheels or belts forming a lifting device in accordance with the other variation of the invention defined above.

    [0030] Further features of the invention provide for the ends or sides of a box to have vertical locating grooves for receiving, in sliding relationship, vertical rails associated with an automated guided vehicle as defined above; for the vertical locating grooves to have latching mechanisms associated with them to interact with formations in the vertical rails to support a box in position on the automated guided vehicle; for the box to be provided with a lid having a seal for sealingly engaging the periphery of an open topped box wherein the lid preferably has a valve arrangement for enabling the interior of the box to be evacuated, at least to some extent, to enhance sealing of the lid to the box; and for the valve arrangement to be configured so that it opens only at predetermined degrees of the vacuum applied to it so that the lid can be handled by an automatic suction cup that can also be used to evacuate the interior of the box consequent on varying the suction pressure.

    [0031] The invention may thus consist of three integrated components all of which together allow for dynamic placement, reorganisation and picking of unique packages while continuously keeping track, through a central supervisor control system and database, of the status and unique three dimensional address (x,y,z co-ordinates) of packages within a modular and multi-levelled racking structure.

    [0032] Implementation of the invention does not therefore require a shelf or floor to support boxes which contain packages or goods. The boxes can be moved vertically by one or more automated guided vehicles from one storage level to another without relying on peripheral lifting support infrastructure. This capability avoids or decreases bottlenecks and constraints associated with warehouse infrastructures.

    [0033] While the present application describes examples of the invention in which the racking system, automated guided vehicle and storage boxes can be used independently of each other, the co-functioning of the these components relative to each other is an very important aspect of a most significant implementation of the invention. The specific mechanisms, mechanical elements, electrical components, energy sources and dimensional details may vary to improve the efficiency, cost and ease of manufacture of the racking system.

    [0034] In order that the above and other features of the invention may be more fully understood various embodiments of the invention will now be described with reference to the accompanying drawings.

    BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



    [0035] In the drawings:-
    Figure 1
    is an isometric view of a modular unit of a racking system according to the invention showing two automated guided vehicles in position thereon;
    Figure 2
    is an isometric view showing one intersection between two lines of beams of the racking system illustrated in Figure 1 crossing at right angles to each other;
    Figure 3
    is an elevation showing part of a modular unit of a racking system illustrated in Figure 1;
    Figure 4
    is an isometric view of one embodiment of automated guided vehicle according to the invention showing one of four possible boxes in position therein;
    Figure 5
    is a plan view of the automated guided vehicle illustrated in Figure 4;
    Figure 6
    is an elevation of the automated guided vehicle illustrated in Figure 4 from one direction;
    Figure 7
    is an elevation of the automated guided vehicle illustrated in Figure 4 from a direction at 90° to that of Figure 6;
    Figure 8
    is an isometric view of a the lower part of a wheel unit of the automated guided vehicle illustrated in Figure 4;
    Figure 9
    is an elevation of the lower part of the wheel unit illustrated in Figure 8;
    Figure 10
    is an isometric view of one embodiment of box and lid assembly according to the invention;
    Figure 11
    is a detailed plan view of a locating groove in one end of the box illustrated in Figure 10;
    Figure 12
    is a side view of the box illustrated in Figure 10;
    Figure 13
    is an end view of the box illustrated in Figure 10;
    Figure 14
    is an elevation of a vertical rail of the type installed on an automated guided vehicle as illustrated in Figures 4 to 9 and a racking system showing its cooperation with spring-loaded catches fixed to the box in this embodiment of the invention;
    Figure 15
    is an isometric view of the rail shown in Figure 14;
    Figure 16
    it is an isometric view showing the lifting mechanism of an automated guided vehicle of the type illustrated in Figures 1 to 15 in operation;
    Figure 17
    is an elevation thereof;
    Figure 18
    is a plan view thereof;
    Figure 19
    is a schematic isometric view to illustrating multiple modules of the type illustrated in Figure 1 forming a substantial infrastructure;
    Figure 20
    is a block diagram of this particular environment of warehouse system;
    Figure 21
    is a sectional plan view of a box showing an alternative lifting device in which the upper half which shows a double V-belt arranged to lift boxes vertically relative to an automated guided vehicle whilst the lower half shows similarly configured driven pulleys having a V belt style periphery or engaging a groove in the outside wall of a box;
    Figure 22
    is a schematic plan view of an automated guided vehicle for accommodating four of such boxes;
    Figure 23
    is a side view of a portion of a part of a racking system utilising pulleys of the type illustrated in Figure 21; 9
    Figure 24
    is a schematic side view showing one array of pulleys in a retracted condition;
    Figure 25
    is a schematic side view showing the array illustrated in Figure 24 in an extended condition;
    Figure 26
    is a schematic side view of one arrangement of pulleys and belts in a retracted condition;
    Figure 27
    is a schematic side in view of an alternative arrangement of pulleys and belts in a retracted condition;
    Figure 28
    is a schematic side view of an arrangement of a rack and pinion gears in an extended condition; and,
    Figure 29
    is a schematic plan view of one variation to the automated guided vehicle.

    DETAILED DESCRIPTION WITH REFERENCE TO THE DRAWINGS



    [0036] In the embodiment of the invention illustrated in the drawings, and initially with particular reference to Figures 1 to 3, a racking system comprises multiple vertical supports (1) arranged on a grid pattern and supporting multiple horizontal support beams (2) extending between them on the grid pattern. The beams are configured such that the width thereof projects outwards beyond the dimensions of the vertical supports in plan view so that a track that is in this instance defined by a guide groove (3) in the top surface of the beam may be provided towards the longitudinal side edges thereof. The guide grooves are shaped for cooperation with the periphery of wheels (4) of automated guided vehicles (5) for the racking system.

    [0037] The arrangement is such that automated guided vehicles can move in two directions at right angles to each other and can pass both the vertical supports and each other on different juxtaposed tracks. At the intersections of support beams, arcuate connecting grooves (6) are provided for enabling a wheel of an automated guided vehicle to rotate about a vertical axis through 90° so as to move the wheel from one guide groove to a guide groove crossing it at right angles, as will become more apparent from what follows.

    [0038] The support beams are arranged to define storage volumes that are square in plan view and form parts of storage layers immediately below the support beams with each of the square storage volumes providing, in this particular instance, four possible storage positions for up to four individual storage boxes (7). The arrangement in this embodiment of the invention is such that each storage volume corresponds to the maximum load that an automated guided vehicle can accommodate. Each storage position within a storage volume is characterized by two opposite downwardly extending storage guides in the form of vertical storage rails (8) arranged such that vertical transfer rails (11) provided on automated guided vehicles may be aligned with them as required. When the rails are in alignment, a storage box (7) can be guided for vertical movement in either direction between an automated guided vehicle and a storage position by moving a box along the temporarily aligned rails.

    [0039] The four storage positions are positioned two on each side of an intermediate dividing beam (12) that has two of the vertical storage rails on each side thereof so that four boxes can be stored as two pairs thereof, one pair on each side of the dividing beam. In this manner a horizontal storage layer as indicated by numeral (13) in Figure 3 is formed over an entire assembly such as is indicated in Figure 19.

    [0040] Immediately above each assembly of support beams, and therefore above each storage layer, is a transfer layer that is indicated by numeral (14) in Figure 3, in which automated guided vehicles (5) may move in each of two directions that are at right angles to each other. Movement is controlled so that the automated guided vehicles can place and retrieve boxes by vertical movement of the boxes to and from storage positions in the storage layers either immediately above or immediately below the relevant transfer layer. The racking system is thus arranged in horizontally extending layers made up of storage layers in which said multiple storage positions are located and vertically juxtaposed transfer layers in which automated guided vehicles are movable.

    [0041] Turning now to the automated guided vehicle (5) that is particularly well illustrated in Figures 4 to 9, the vehicle is of square outer peripheral shape and is provided with a support wheel assembly comprising a wheel unit (15) at each corner thereof. Each wheel unit has a drive assembly that enables the automated guided vehicle to travel selectively in either of two directions at right angles to each other and that are parallel to the sides of the automated guided vehicle. Each wheel (4) is rotatable about its own horizontal axis and is mounted on a cuff (16) that is rotatable through 90° about a vertical axis between one terminal position corresponding to travel in one of the directions and a second terminal position corresponding to travel in the other direction at right angles to the first direction.

    [0042] The drive assembly includes a vertical axis servo motor (17) that drives a driving bevelled gear (18) that meshes with a driven bevelled gear (19) fixed to the relevant wheel (4) or its axle. The arrangement is such that when the cuff is locked in one terminal angular position by means of a retractable solenoid operated pin (21) engaged in a hole (22) in the cuff, the wheel is driven in the appropriate direction. On the other hand, when the pin (21) is withdrawn from the hole in the cuff, the cuff and the wheel with it can be rotated from one terminal position to the other by way of the cooperating bevelled gears. This results in the wheel cuff being driven between its two terminal angular positions by virtue of torque that is applied to the wheel still causing the wheel to rotate about its axle.

    [0043] However, in this instance, instead of moving the automated guided vehicle, its mass ensures that the torque provided by the motor will alter the position of the wheel mechanism and will not affect the position of the automated guided vehicle itself. Thus, due to the difference in inertias between the wheel mechanisms and the automated guided vehicle whereby the combined inertias of the wheel mechanisms are far smaller than that of the automated guided vehicle. It is the differences in these inertias that results in the one mass to move significantly more than the other.

    [0044] The wheels are free to roll around the arcuate groove and rotate the cuff with it. It should be noted that two wheels rotate in plan view in one direction and the other two in the opposite direction thereby resulting in a counter rotation relative to one another with the net resultant moment on the body of the automated guided vehicle being null.

    [0045] The pins (21) are chamfered to help locate them and ensure accurate alignment of the cuff without the need for a complicated control system to verify the wheel axle position. In the alternative, an encoder may be placed on the collar of the wheel axle to provide positional feedback to both brake and motor control systems and thus allow for the specified angle of rotation to be accurately achieved.

    [0046] Thus, when it is desired to change the direction in which the wheels are orientated, the solenoid operated pins are withdrawn and the wheel cuff is rotated so that the wheel follows the arcuate connecting grooves (6) from one guide groove (3) to a guide groove that crosses it. The pins can then be re-engaged and the wheels driven in the appropriate direction to move the automated guided vehicle in the desired direction without changing the orientation of the automated guided vehicle which therefore maintains its orientation relative to the modular racking.

    [0047] Each automated guided vehicle has a large square aperture (25) in a central region thereof for receiving up to four storage boxes that can be positioned two on each side of an intermediate assembly of a rotatable shaft (26) and dividing beam (27). The dividing beam has guides in the form of two vertical transport rails (11) and cooperating vertical transport rails (11) on the opposing inside of the aperture. Thus up to four boxes can be supported as two pairs thereof, one pair on each side of the dividing beam, for transportation by the automated guided vehicle.

    [0048] The rotatable shaft (26) that is driven by a gear motor forms the basis of a lifting device associated with the automated guided vehicle for moving boxes vertically into and out of the box receiving aperture by a distance in excess of the height of a box. This moves the boxes to or from the transfer layer in which the relevant automatic guided vehicle is operating and into or out of either of the upper or lower adjacent storage layers.

    [0049] The lifting device in this embodiment of the invention comprises three parallel arms (31) fixed at one of their ends to the rotatable shaft (26) so as to be rotatable in unison with the rotatable shaft and having at their other ends transverse selectively retractable journals in the form of suitable bearings (32).

    [0050] The retractable bearings are arranged for cooperation with horizontal lifting channels (33) in the sides of boxes wherein the parallel arms are arranged to be located along the sides of adjacent boxes. A low profile push solenoid moves the bearing between its terminal positions.

    [0051] The lifting device is configured to move boxes vertically in relation to transport positions and storage positions both below and above the automated guided vehicle. This is achieved by confining the boxes to vertical movement due to interaction of the vertical rails and the boxes as will be further described below and the horizontal lifting channels of the boxes. Boxes to be moved are selected by machine-readable unique identification codes carried on the outer surface thereof as will be apparent from what follows and only the required journals are projected outwards at the free ends of the parallel lifting arms so that only a required box is engaged.

    [0052] The movements therefore are that the retractable bearings are engaged with the lifting channels (33) towards one end thereof and move along the length of the lifting channels towards the other end thereof as the boxes are lifted or lowered. This may for example be achieved by rotating the arms through an angle of about 70 degrees from the origin. The aligned vertical rails fixed to the automated guided vehicle and to the horizontal support beams therefore serve as guides for confining boxes to substantially vertical movement relative to the automated guided vehicle and racking system.

    [0053] The automated guided vehicle is fitted with one part of a contactless wireless energy transfer system as indicated by numeral (34) in Figure 20 and the other part of which is associated with the co-operating racking system as indicated by numeral (35). The wireless energy transfer system could, for example, be of the type sold under the trade mark MOVITRANS® by the company SEW-EURODRIVE GmbH of Germany.

    [0054] A computer based controller (36) (see Figure 20) is provided for controlling movement of the automated guided vehicles in a horizontal plane and the operation of the lifting devices. Communication between the controller and each of the automated guided vehicles is preferably wireless by virtue of transmitter/receivers (37, 38) provided on the relevant apparatus. Clearly the programming of the computer will be aimed at achieving the most desirable result and the most efficient turnaround time for packages that are received for redistribution. Many different algorithms exist that can be used for such programming.

    [0055] Turning now particularly to Figures 10 to 15, the box (7) is preferably made of an injection moulded nylon or other durable material with two sides (41) and two ends (42). The outer face of each side has a horizontal lifting channel (33) formed therein for engagement by a retractable bearing (32) carried by the lifting arms of an automated guided vehicle as described above. The horizontal lifting channels are preferably reinforced with steel or other durable material.

    [0056] The ends (42) of the boxes have central vertical locating grooves (43) for receiving, in sliding relationship, vertical transport rails associated with an automated guided vehicle as described above or the vertical storage rails in respect of the storage positions. The box also has flat zones (44) (see Figure 10) that are to receive machine readable identification labels unique to each box so that the identity of each box can be individually confirmed by an automated guided vehicle as may be required.

    [0057] Each of the vertical locating grooves (43) has two vertically spaced spring loaded latching mechanisms (45) associated with them to interact with formations in the form of opposed cut out notches (46) in opposite surfaces of the vertical rails to support a box in position on the automated guided vehicle or in the storage positions.

    [0058] As will be quite apparent from Figure 14 in particular, the notches have two inclined faces meeting at their inner ends with the lower face inclined at a smaller angle to the horizontal than the upper face for purposes of ensuring that the boxes are adequately supported with the spring loading of the latching mechanisms being designed to accept a predetermined load, for example 20 kg. The tips of the latches are preferably bearings so that wear on the rails and notches is minimized.

    [0059] The design of the lifting mechanism is made to overcome the resistance offered by such latching mechanisms.

    [0060] Many products give off vapours and odours that can impact adversely on products in adjacent boxes and the customary way of combating this problem is to classify different products and store them in different storage areas.

    [0061] The present invention offers an alternative to that strategy by providing a lid (47) for each box that has a peripheral seal for sealingly engaging the periphery of the open topped box. The lid has a central valve arrangement (49) for enabling the interior of the box to be evacuated, at least to some extent, to enhance sealing of the lid to the box and to thereby prevent odours or vapours from leaving a source box and preventing these or any other odours and vapours from entering a box and thus contacting the contents of a box. The valve arrangement is configured so that it opens only at a predetermined degree of the vacuum applied to it so that the lid can be initially handled by an automatic suction cup at a lower degree of vacuum and can also be evacuated using the same suction cup to evacuate the interior of the box consequent on increasing the suction pressure. The same valve may provide a facility for letting air back into the box in order to enable it to be opened.

    [0062] In use, a racking system, fleet of automated guided vehicles and storage boxes of the type described above provide numerous advantages over existing systems.

    [0063] The addition of a direction of movement of the automated guided vehicles in a second horizontal direction whilst substantially retaining the existing vertical functionality, automated guided vehicles are able to overtake, pass or assist one another in the simultaneous placement, relocation, sorting and retrieval of boxes. Because of the enhanced capacity of an automated guided vehicle, placement, sorting and retrieval of more than one, and in this instance up to four boxes can be carried out on one trip. As sorting is now an option, sorting and relocation for the purpose of optimizing the grouping of packages for ultimate dispatch, possibly to a common destination when a transport vehicle is available, is a major advantage.

    [0064] The interface between the rails and a box allows for the box to move vertically upwards or downwards through the racking and the process of lifting or dropping a box down a level does not involve having to transport the box to the periphery of the racking system in order for a separate apparatus to lift or lower the box. If multiple automated guided vehicles are aligned vertically, a cascading effect may be created whereby boxes may be raised or lowered between storage or transport levels through the interior of the system.

    [0065] It is to be noted that primary lifting of boxes or deliveries of packages can be done by conveyors that surround and pass through the racking matrix at certain intervals. Roller conveyors are preferred as they spin about their own axes and thus only the box with the package itself experiences a net movement upward. The automated guided vehicles of this invention may typically retrieve a package from above and deposit it below or vice versa. In that variation the process is gravity-fed, at least to some extent, thereby conserving energy and avoiding raising any equipment self-weight or boxes vertically.

    [0066] It is to be noted that servo motors are capable of electronic braking. When the driving current to a servo motors is reversed, a braking torque is applied. If managed correctly, and only intermediate braking force is required, so-called regenerative braking can be achieved whereby the motors temporarily act as generators. Choosing electronic braking achieves energy regeneration, anti-locking nature of electric motors, no disc or drum wear, and weight saving since the motors already have to be present. Servo motors typically have an electromechanical braking system built in, especially for safety / redundancy in the case of loss of power. The present system could leverage both means of braking. In both instances, the braking takes place on the motor shaft and not the wheel shaft which would be very difficult to achieve given the size of the wheels. This locking-in-position could however be achieved with a friction type drum brake or any other appropriate mechanism.

    [0067] An alternative that is contemplated in the invention are stepper motors which can be precisely controlled to speed up, slow down and stop at precise positions without over run and the need for other means of retardation and breaking.

    [0068] Multiple racks can be joined both horizontally and vertically to create a large warehousing environment, as will be apparent from Figure 19. The racking system is completely modular and may be comprised of multiples of single racks containing four or any other selected number of storage positions.

    [0069] In normal use the automated guided vehicles themselves generally do not change levels as per existing systems of which applicant is aware unless a removal, re-distribution or deployment of automated guided vehicles is being carried out. Also, each box is never placed higher than is absolutely necessary because the storage is continuously defragmented creating the most compact stacking arrangement as close to the ground as possible. This ensures that inbound packages travel the shortest distance and are raised by the smallest distance.

    [0070] It should be noted also that the sensors and other expensive mechanisms are found on the automated guided vehicles rather than in the racking system, as this decreases the number of necessary mechanisms. This in turn decreases the cost of the entire system and increases the usable space within the system.

    [0071] Time and energy savings primarily result from the ability to continuously locate the most frequently accessed items as close as possible to the input or output of the system (namely a picking or placing employee). Due to the relative speed and ease with which the lifting mechanism may lift or lower a box through the racking system, boxes in higher storage positions that would typically be considered resource intensive to retrieve or place upon, may now be considered close by. In other words, in the past, bottlenecks may occur at lifts typically meant that quick access storage was confined to the base floor level.

    [0072] It will be understood that numerous variations may be made to the embodiment of the invention described above without departing from the scope as defined by the appended claims. In particular the various mechanisms of the warehouse system described above can be varied widely and are not in any way limited to any specific examples given above. In particular, the drive of the automated guided vehicles can be varied widely and is not limited to the situation of wheels that can be turned through 90° to provide for the two different directions of travel at right angles to each other.

    [0073] Thus, for example, the wheels can be of the type presently in use in the prior art in which two sets of wheels having their axes at right angles to each other in plan view may be used such that support of the automated guided vehicle is transferred from one set to the other set depending on the desired direction of travel.

    [0074] Also, the way in which the cuff is prevented from moving when the wheels are being driven can be changed widely and could simply be controlled by a stepper motor or other electronic device or could be an alternative lock or even a suitable brake.

    [0075] The supports need not assume the form of storage of transfer rails with the spring loaded latches as described above but could be any other releasable latching mechanism whereby the boxes can be supported in releasable manner in the automated guided vehicle or in the storage positions in the warehouse racking system. Such other mechanisms may use solenoid operated locking elements to support the weight of a box in both its storage and transport positions.

    [0076] The lifting mechanism could also be varied widely and may be a pneumatic or hydraulic cylinder assembly of a suitable nature.

    [0077] Alternatively, the lifting mechanism may include wheels or belts that can frictionally engage the sides of a box. Thus, as shown in the lower half of Figure 21, elastomeric wheels (51) may engage in upright lifting grooves (52) in two opposite side walls of the box (53). The side walls of the lifting grooves (52) converge towards each other in a trapezoidal configuration in the manner of well-known V belts.

    [0078] As shown in the upper half of Figure 21, the frictionally engaging elements may, in the alternative, be a double sided V belt (55) running on cooperating pulleys (56).

    [0079] As shown in Figure 22, eight of such arrangements could be employed on opposite sides of the four boxes (53), where the capacity is four boxes as described above.

    [0080] Figure 23 shows retractable sets of four vertically elastomeric wheels (51) of this nature in the retracted condition on the left-hand side of the automated guided vehicle (57) and in a vertically extended condition on the right-hand side of the automated guided vehicle in which they can raise or lower a box (53) into, through or out of the automated guided vehicle.

    [0081] Figures 24 and 25 shows one way of retracting the uppermost and lowermost elastomeric wheels (61) are carried on arms (62) that can be rotated between a horizontal orientation as shown in Figure 24 and a vertical orientation as shown in Figure 25.

    [0082] Figure 26 shows one arrangement of belts (63, 64) on pulleys (65) in which the operatively uppermost and lowermost pulleys are each connected to the adjacent pulley by a separate belt (64) so that they can be rotated from a horizontal orientation to a vertical orientation in the manner indicated above.

    [0083] Figure 27, on the other hand, shows an arrangement of a single belt in which, in the retracted condition that is illustrated, idler pulleys (66) guide a single belt (68).

    [0084] Figure 28, illustrates a further variation of the invention in which a rack (71) is formed in a side of the box (72) and pinion gears (73) spaced apart and retractable as indicated above engaged in the rack releasably to move the box vertically as may be required.

    [0085] Figure 29 illustrates, in plan view, one alternative arrangement of automated guided vehicle in which only two boxes (75) can be accommodated in a single vehicle. Obviously any other appropriate number can be used according to suitability of the racking system and the purpose that it is to serve.

    [0086] The belted equivalent of this alternative may involve the use of a double sided toothed synchronous belt, commonly known as a timing belt with a cooperative castellated profile on a box.

    [0087] Unlike other systems known to the applicant, variations of the invention allow for boxes to be passed directly from one automated guided vehicle to another automated guided vehicle with resulting improved efficient collaboration between automated guided vehicles. The organization and collaboration of these automated guided vehicles may be controlled by means of a wireless network and central supervisory computer which also allows for collaboration between the automated guided vehicles. The dynamic and optimal reorganization of boxes from their initial placement storage positions could be determined using modern programming techniques such as neural networks and by the application of evolutionary or genetic algorithms.

    [0088] In some embodiments of the invention the lifting mechanism of the automated guided vehicle allows for near continuous motion in the lifting and lowering of boxes which, when coordinated with automated guided vehicles at adjacent levels, results in not having to rely only on any separate lifting infrastructure. This allows for incremental scalability by the addition of modules of racking unconstrained by the need for further infrastructure.

    [0089] Implementation of the invention also does not require high tolerance concrete floors required by forklift operations, or floor based automated guided vehicles wherein the stability determines the height limitation of racking systems. The three dimensional lattice structure of the invention allows for higher stability and a more economical structure when compared to tall shelving systems. As a result, existing spaces and warehouses can be retrofitted with greater degrees of freedom than purpose designed warehouses with strict floor tolerances and highly technical floor design and high quality construction.


    Claims

    1. A racking system in which multiple storage positions are provided for individual storage boxes (7, 53, 72, 75) and in which one or more automated guided vehicles (5, 57) carry out automated placement, relocation and retrieval of storage boxes from storage positions in which they are located, the racking system comprising multiple vertical supports (1) supporting multiple horizontal support beams (2) extending between the vertical supports, the width of the horizontal support beams projecting outwards beyond the dimensions of the vertical supports in plan view so that automated guided vehicles can pass the vertical supports and each other; the racking system being arranged in horizontally extending layers comprising:
    storage layers (13) in which said multiple storage positions are located; and transfer layers (14) vertically juxtaposed with respect to the storage layers so that the storage layers and the transfer layers alternate; wherein automated guided vehicles are movable in at least two directions at right angles to each other in the transfer layers to place, relocate and retrieve boxes to and from storage positions in which they are located in the storage layers by vertical movement of the storage boxes into and out of storage positions in which a storage box is located above or below a transfer layer, and wherein storage guides (8) for guiding storage boxes into and out of the storage positions are associated with the storage positions, wherein support arrangements (45, 46) for supporting the storage boxes in their storage positions are associated with the storage positions, wherein a storage box stored in a storage position in one storage layer positioned between two juxtaposed transfer layers is accessible by both an automated guided vehicle movable in a transfer layer above that storage layer as well as by an automated guided vehicle movable in a transfer layer below that storage layer such that a storage box stored in the one storage layer can be transferred from that storage layer through an automated guided vehicle to another storage layer and thence to an automated guided vehicle in a different transfer layer to effectively move the storage box vertically upwards or downwards through the racking system,
    the racking system being characterized in that, guide grooves (3) are provided in a top surface of the horizontal support beams of the transfer layer and arcuate connecting grooves (6) are provided at the intersections of the horizontal support beams of the transfer layer to define tracks along which the automated guided vehicles are movable.
     
    2. A racking system as claimed in claim 1, characterized in that, the storage guides are vertical rails arranged to align with vertical rails (11) provided on automated guided vehicles temporarily so that a storage box can be guided for movement between an automated guided vehicle and a storage position by moving a storage box along temporarily aligned rails.
     
    3. A racking system as claimed in claim 1 or claim 2, characterized in that, it includes one or more automated guided vehicles comprising a support wheel assembly (4), a drive arrangement for the support wheel assembly (4) that enables the automated guided vehicle to travel selectively in at least two horizontal directions at right angles to each other and parallel to sides of the automated guided vehicle, wherein the automated guided vehicle is of a generally square outer peripheral shape in plan view and has a box receiving aperture (25) in a central region thereof for receiving at least one storage box to be transported by the automated guided vehicle moved vertically into or out of the aperture in either an upwards or a downwards direction relative to the support wheel assembly; supports (32) for at least intermittently supporting at least one storage box located within the box receiving aperture; guides (11) for guiding a storage box into and out of the box receiving aperture in a vertical direction; a lifting device (31) associated with the automated guided vehicle for moving a storage box vertically into and out of the box receiving aperture by a distance in excess of a height of the storage box and to enable storage boxes to be passed vertically directly from one automated guided vehicle to another automated guided vehicle, and a controller for controlling movement of the automated guided vehicle in a horizontal plane and for controlling operation of the lifting device.
     
    4. A racking system as claimed in claim 3, characterized in that, a transmitter and receiver is provided for two way communication between the automated guided vehicle and a centralized control computer for controlling multiple automated guided vehicles and for transmitting and receiving locational data of automated guided vehicles and storage boxes.
     
    5. A racking system as claimed in either one of claims 3 or 4, characterized in that, the box receiving aperture is dimensioned to receive four juxtaposed storage boxes each of generally rectangular shape in plan view.
     
    6. A racking system as claimed in any one of claims 3 to 5, characterized in that, the lifting device is configured to move storage boxes vertically in relation to storage positions both below and above the automated guided vehicle and the supports are vertical rails fixed to the automated guided vehicle and serving as guides for confining storage boxes to substantially vertical movement relative to the automated guided vehicle, the vertical rails having formations for cooperation with co-operant formations on a storage box.
     
    7. A racking system as claimed in any one of claims 3 to 6, characterized in that, the lifting device comprises parallel arms (31) rotatable in unison about one of their ends and having at the other ends retractable journals (32) for cooperating with horizontal lifting channels (33) in the sides of boxes wherein the parallel arms are arranged to be located along the sides of adjacent storage boxes, in use.
     
    8. A racking system as claimed in any one of claims 3 to 6, characterized in that, the lifting device comprises sets of opposite and inwardly directed wheels (51, 56) with or without belts (55), on each side of each box receiving aperture of the automated guided vehicle such that the wheels or belts face inwards towards the box receiving aperture and are releasably engagable with opposite sides (41) of a storage box present in the aperture.
     
    9. A racking system as claimed in any one of claims 3 to 8, characterized in that, vertical rails have formations for cooperation with co-operant formations on a storage box in order to support it in its operative position.
     
    10. A racking system as claimed in any one of claims 3 to 9, characterized in that, the support wheel assembly includes four wheels generally at the corners of the generally square automated guided vehicle; wherein each wheel is rotatable about its own horizontal axis and is mounted on a cuff (16); wherein the cuff is rotatable about a vertical axis with a drive assembly; wherein the drive assembly includes a motor (17) configured to selectively drive the cuff from one terminal position through 90° to a second terminal position so that the automated guided vehicle can travel in a direction at right angles to the corresponding first terminal position without changing its orientation.
     
    11. A racking system as claimed in claim 10, characterized in that, the drive assembly includes cooperating bevelled gears (18, 19) connected to a motor drive (17) so as to be capable of driving the wheel cuff between its two terminal positions when a releasable lock or brake (21, 22) is disengaged and of driving the wheel itself when the releasable lock or brake is engaged.
     
    12. A racking system as claimed in claim 1 or claim 2, characterized in that, it includes one or more storage boxes having two sides and two ends wherein outer faces of two opposite sides or two opposite ends have either horizontal lifting channels (33) formed therein for engagement by retractable journals carried by lifting arms of an automated guided vehicle, or vertical surfaces or formations selected from vertical flat friction surfaces, an integral vertical rack formation (71) and truncated V-shaped grooves (52), for engagement by wheels (51) or belts (55) forming a lifting device.
     
    13. A racking system as claimed in claim 12, characterized in that, the ends or sides of the box comprise vertical locating grooves (43) for receiving, in sliding relationship, vertical rails associated with an automated guided vehicle as defined in any one of claims 3 to 11, wherein the vertical locating grooves comprise latching mechanisms (45) associated with them to interact with formations in vertical rails to support a box in position on the automated guided vehicle.
     
    14. A racking system as claimed in either one of claims 12 or 13, characterized in that, the box is provided with a lid (47) having a seal for sealingly engaging the periphery of an open topped box, wherein the lid has a valve arrangement for enabling the interior of the box to be evacuated, at least to some extent, to enhance sealing of the lid to the box.
     


    Ansprüche

    1. Regalsystem, bei dem mehrere Lagerpositionen für einzelne Lagerboxen (7, 53, 72, 75) bereitgestellt sind und bei dem ein oder mehrere automatisierte geführte Fahrzeuge (5, 57) eine automatisierte Platzierung, Umpositionierung und Entnahme von Lagerboxen aus Lagerpositionen, in denen sie sich befinden, ausführen, wobei das Regalsystem mehrere vertikale Stützen (1) umfasst, die mehrere horizontale Stützträger (2) stützen, die sich zwischen den vertikalen Stützen erstrecken, wobei die Breite der horizontalen Stützträger in der Draufsicht über die Abmessungen der vertikalen Stützen nach außen vorstehen, derart, dass die automatisierten geführten Fahrzeuge die vertikalen Stützen und einander passieren können;
    wobei das Regalsystem in sich horizontal erstreckenden Ebenen angeordnet ist, die Folgendes umfassen:

    Lagerebenen (13), in denen sich die mehreren Lagerpositionen befinden; und

    Transferebenen (14), die mit Bezug auf die Lagerebenen vertikal nebeneinanderliegen, derart, dass die Lagerebenen und die Transferebenen sich abwechseln; wobei automatisierte geführte Fahrzeuge im rechten Winkel zueinander in den Transferebenen in mindestens zwei Richtungen bewegbar sind, um durch vertikales Bewegen von Lagerboxen in und aus Lagerpositionen, in denen sich eine Lagerbox über oder unter einer Transferebene befindet, die Boxen in und aus Lagerpositionen, in denen sie sich in den Lagerebenen befinden, zu platzieren, umzupositionieren und zu entnehmen, und wobei Lagerführungen (8) zum Führen von Lagerboxen in und aus den Lagerpositionen mit den Lagerpositionen verknüpft sind, wobei Stützanordnungen (45, 46) zum Stützen der Lagerboxen in ihren Lagerpositionen mit den Lagerpositionen verknüpft sind, wobei auf eine Lagerbox, die in einer Lagerposition in einer Lagerebene gelagert ist, die zwischen zwei nebeneinanderliegenden Transferebenen positioniert ist, sowohl mit einem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug, das in einer Transferebene über dieser Lagerebene bewegbar ist, als auch mit einem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug, das in einer Transferebene unter dieser Lagerebene bewegbar ist, zugegriffen werden kann, derart, dass eine Lagerbox, die in der einen Lagerebene gelagert ist, mittels eines automatisierten geführten Fahrzeugs zu einer anderen Lagerebene und von dort zu einem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug in einer anderen Transferebene transferiert werden kann, um die Lagerbox effektiv vertikal nach oben oder unten durch das Regalsystem zu bewegen,

    wobei das Regalsystem dadurch gekennzeichnet ist, dass in einer Oberfläche der horizontalen Stützträger der Transferebene Führungsrillen (3) bereitgestellt sind und an den Schnittpunkten der horizontalen Stützträger der Transferebene bogenförmige Verbindungsrillen (6) bereitgestellt sind, um Bahnen zu definieren, entlang denen die automatisierten geführten Fahrzeuge bewegbar sind.


     
    2. Regalsystem nach Anspruch 1, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Lagerführungen vertikale Schienen sind, die angeordnet sind, sich auf vertikale Schienen (11), die an automatisierten geführten Fahrzeugen bereitgestellt sind, temporär auszurichten, derart, dass eine Lagerbox durch Bewegen einer Lagerbox entlang den temporär ausgerichteten Schienen zur Bewegung zwischen einem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug und einer Lagerposition geführt werden kann.
     
    3. Lagersystem nach Anspruch 1 oder Anspruch 2, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass es ein oder mehrere automatisierte geführte Fahrzeuge beinhaltet, die eine Stützradbaugruppe (4), eine Antriebsanordnung für die Stützradbaugruppe (4), die es dem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug ermöglicht, selektiv in mindestens zwei horizontale Richtungen im rechten Winkel zueinander und parallel zu den Seiten des automatisierten geführten Fahrzeugs zu fahren, wobei das automatisierte geführte Fahrzeug in der Draufsicht von einer im Wesentlichen quadratischen Außenumfangsform ist und in einem zentralen Bereich davon eine Boxaufnahmeöffnung (25) zum Aufnehmen von mindestens einer Lagerbox aufweist, die vom automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug zu transportieren ist und vertikal in einer Aufwärts- oder einer Abwärtsrichtung relativ zur Stützradbaugruppe in die oder aus der Öffnung bewegt wird; Stützen (32) zum mindestens intermittierenden Stützen von mindestens einer Lagerbox, die sich in der Boxaufnahmeöffnung befindet;
    Führungen (11) zum Führen einer Lagerbox in einer vertikalen Richtung in die oder aus der Boxaufnahmeöffnung;
    eine Hebevorrichtung (31), die mit dem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug verknüpft ist, zum Bewegen einer Lagerbox um einen Abstand über einer Höhe der Lagerbox vertikal in die und aus der Boxaufnahmeöffnung und zum Ermöglichen, dass Lagerboxen von einem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug zu einem anderen automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug vertikal direkt weitergegeben werden, sowie eine Steuerung zum Steuern einer Bewegung des automatisierten geführten Fahrzeugs in einer horizontalen Lage und zum Steuern des Betriebs der Hebevorrichtung umfassen.
     
    4. Regalsystem nach Anspruch 3, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass für eine Zweiwegekommunikation zwischen dem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug und einem zentralisierten Steuercomputer zum Steuern von mehreren automatisierten geführten Fahrzeugen und zum Übertragen und Empfangen von Standortdaten von automatisierten geführten Fahrzeugen und von Lagerboxen ein Sender und ein Empfänger bereitgestellt sind.
     
    5. Regalsystem nach einem der Ansprüche 3 oder 4, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Boxaufnahmeöffnung dimensioniert ist, um vier nebeneinanderliegende Lagerboxen aufzunehmen, von denen jede in der Draufsicht von einer im Allgemeinen rechteckigen Form ist.
     
    6. Regalsystem nach einem der Ansprüche 3 bis 5, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Hebevorrichtung dazu ausgelegt ist, Lagerboxen mit Bezug auf Lagerpositionen sowohl unter als auch über dem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug vertikal zu bewegen, und die Stützen vertikale Schienen sind, die am automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug befestigt sind und als Führungen zum Beschränken der Lagerboxen auf eine im Wesentlichen vertikale Bewegung relativ zum automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug dienen, wobei die vertikalen Schienen Ausformungen zum Zusammenwirken mit zusammenarbeitenden Ausformungen an einer Lagerbox aufweisen.
     
    7. Regalsystem nach einem der Ansprüche 3 bis 6, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Hebevorrichtung parallele Arme (31) umfasst, die gemeinsam um eines ihrer Enden drehbar sind und an den anderen Enden einziehbare Zapfen (32) zum Zusammenwirken mit horizontalen Hebekanälen (33) in den Seiten der Boxen aufweisen, wobei die parallelen Arme angeordnet sind, sich im Gebrauch entlang den Seiten von benachbarten Lagerboxen zu befinden.
     
    8. Regalsystem nach einem der Ansprüche 3 bis 6, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Hebevorrichtung auf jeder Seite jeder Boxaufnahmeöffnung des automatisierten geführten Fahrzeugs einen Satz von gegenüberliegenden und nach innen gerichteten Rädern (51, 56) mit oder ohne Riemen (55) umfasst, derart, dass die Räder oder Riemen nach innen zur Boxaufnahmeöffnung gewandt sind und in gegenüberliegende Seiten (41) einer Lagerbox, die in der Öffnung vorhanden ist, lösbar einrückbar sind.
     
    9. Lagersystem nach einem der Ansprüche 3 bis 8, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die vertikalen Schienen Ausformungen zum Zusammenwirken mit zusammenarbeitenden Ausformungen an einer Lagerbox aufweisen, um sie in ihrer Betriebsposition zu stützen.
     
    10. Lagersystem nach einem der Ansprüche 3 bis 9, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Stützradbaugruppe im Allgemeinen an den Ecken des im Allgemeinen quadratischen automatisierten geführten Fahrzeugs vier Räder beinhaltet;
    wobei jedes Rad um seine eigene horizontale Achse drehbar und an einer Manschette (16) montiert ist;
    wobei die Manschette mit einer Antriebsbaugruppe um eine vertikale Achse drehbar ist;
    wobei die Antriebsbaugruppe einen Motor (17) beinhaltet, der dazu ausgelegt ist, die Manschette von einer Endposition über 90° zu einer zweiten Endposition anzutreiben, derart, dass das automatisierte geführte Fahrzeug in eine Richtung im rechten Winkel zur entsprechenden ersten Endposition fahren kann, ohne seine Ausrichtung zu ändern.
     
    11. Lagersystem nach Anspruch 10, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Antriebsbaugruppe zusammenwirkende Kegelräder (18, 19) beinhaltet, die mit einem Motorantrieb (17) verbunden sind, um in der Lage zu sein, die Radmanschette zwischen ihren zwei Endpositionen anzutreiben, wenn eine lösbare Verriegelung oder Bremse (21, 22) ausgerückt ist, und das Rad selbst anzutreiben, wenn die lösbare Verriegelung oder Bremse eingerückt ist.
     
    12. Lagersystem nach Anspruch 1 oder Anspruch 2, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass es eine oder mehrere Lagerboxen beinhaltet, die zwei Seiten und zwei Enden aufweisen, wobei Außenflächen von zwei gegenüberliegenden Seiten oder zwei gegenüberliegenden Enden entweder horizontale Hebekanäle (33), die darin zum Einrücken durch einziehbare Zapfen, die sich an Hebelarmen eines automatisierten geführten Fahrzeugs befinden, gebildet sind, oder vertikale Oberflächen oder Ausformungen, die aus vertikalen ebenen Reibflächen, einer integralen vertikalen Regalausformung (71) und abgeschnittenen V-förmigen Rillen (52) ausgewählt sind, zum Einrücken durch Räder (51) oder Riemen (55), die eine Hebevorrichtung bilden, aufweisen.
     
    13. Regalsystem nach Anspruch 12, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Enden oder Seiten der Box vertikale Positionierungsrillen (43) zum Aufnehmen von vertikalen Schienen, die mit einem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug, wie in einem der Ansprüche 3 bis 11 definiert, verknüpft sind, in einer Gleitbeziehung umfassen, wobei die vertikalen Positionierungsrillen Rastmechanismen (45) umfassen, die mit ihnen verknüpft sind, um mit Ausformungen in vertikalen Schienen zu interagieren, um eine Box auf dem automatisierten geführten Fahrzeug in Position zu stützen.
     
    14. Regalsystem nach einem der Ansprüche 12 oder 13, dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die Box mit einem Deckel (47) versehen ist, der eine Dichtung zum abdichtenden Einrücken in den Umfang einer oben offenen Box aufweist, wobei der Deckel eine Ventilanordnung zum Ermöglichen, dass der Innenraum der Box ausgesaugt wird, mindestens in einem gewissen Umfang, um die Abdichtung des Deckels an der Box zu verbessern, aufweist.
     


    Revendications

    1. Système de rangement dans lequel plusieurs positions de stockage sont prévues pour des boîtes de stockage (7, 53, 72, 75) individuelles et dans lequel un ou plusieurs véhicules à guidage automatique (5, 57) réalisent la mise en place automatique, le repositionnement et la récupération des boîtes de stockage des positions de stockage dans lesquelles elles sont positionnées, le système de rangement comprenant plusieurs supports verticaux (1) supportant plusieurs poutres de support horizontales (2) s'étendant entre les supports verticaux, la largeur des poutres de support horizontales faisant saillie vers l'extérieur au-delà des dimensions des supports verticaux sur une vue en plan, de sorte que les véhicules à guidage automatique peuvent passer les supports verticaux et se croiser ;
    le système de rangement étant agencé en couches s'étendant horizontalement, comprenant :

    des couches de stockage (13) dans lesquelles lesdites plusieurs positions de stockage sont positionnées ; et des couches de transfert (14) verticalement juxtaposées par rapport aux couches de stockage de sorte que les couches de stockage et les couches de transfert alternent ; dans lequel les véhicules à guidage automatique sont mobiles dans au moins deux directions en angle droit dans les couches de transfert pour placer, repositionner et récupérer des boîtes dans et de positions de stockage dans lesquelles elles sont positionnées dans les couches de stockage par un mouvement vertical des boîtes de stockage dans et hors de positions de stockage dans lesquelles une boîte de stockage est positionnée au-dessus ou au-dessous d'une couche de transfert, et dans lequel des guides de stockage (8) pour guider des boîtes de stockage dans et hors des positions de stockage, sont associés aux positions de stockage, dans lequel des agencements de support (45, 46) pour supporter les boîtes de stockage dans leurs positions de stockage sont associés aux positions de stockage, dans lequel une boîte de stockage stockée dans une position de stockage dans une couche de stockage positionnée entre deux couches de transfert juxtaposées, est accessible à la fois par un véhicule à guidage automatique mobile dans une couche de transfert au-dessus de cette couche de stockage ainsi que par un véhicule à guidage automatique mobile dans une couche de transfert au-dessous de cette couche de stockage de sorte qu'une boîte de stockage stockée dans la une couche de stockage peut être transférée de cette couche de stockage par le biais d'un véhicule à guidage automatique vers une autre couche de stockage et ensuite vers un véhicule à guidage automatique dans une couche de transfert différente pour déplacer efectivement la boîte de stockage verticalement vers le haut ou vers le bas dans le système de rangement,

    le système de rangement étant caractérisé en ce que des rainures de guidage (3) sont prévues dans une surface supérieure des poutres de support horizontales de la couche de transfert et des rainures de raccordement arquées (6) sont prévues aux intersections des poutres de support horizontales de la couche de transfert afin de définir des voies le long desquelles les véhicules à guidage automatique sont mobiles.


     
    2. Système de rangement selon la revendication 1, caractérisé en ce que les guides de stockage sont des rails verticaux agencés pour s'aligner avec des rails verticaux (11) prévus sur des véhicules à guidage automatique temporairement de sorte qu'une boîte de stockage peut être guidée pour le déplacement entre un véhicule à guidage automatique et une position de stockage en déplaçant une boîte de stockage le long de rails temporairement alignés.
     
    3. Système de rangement selon la revendication 1 ou la revendication 2, caractérisé en ce qu'il comprend un ou plusieurs véhicules à guidage automatique comprenant un ensemble de roue de support (4), un agencement d'entraînement pour l'ensemble de roue de support (4) qui permet au véhicule à guidage automatique de se déplacer sélectivement dans au moins deux directions horizontales en angle droit et parallèlement aux côtés du véhicule à guidage automatique, dans lequel le véhicule à guidage automatique a une forme périphérique externe généralement carrée, sur une vue en plan, et a une ouverture de réception de boîte (25) dans sa région centrale pour recevoir au moins une boîte de stockage à transporter par le véhicule à guidage automatique déplacé verticalement à l'intérieur ou à l'extérieur de l'ouverture dans une direction ascendante ou une direction descendante par rapport à l'ensemble de roue de support ; des supports (32) pour supporter, au moins de manière intermittente, au moins une boîte de stockage positionnée dans l'ouverture de réception de boîte ;
    des guides (11) pour guider une boîte de stockage à l'intérieur et à l'extérieur de l'ouverture de réception de boîte dans une direction verticale ;
    un dispositif de levage (31) associé au véhicule à guidage automatique pour déplacer une boîte de stockage verticalement à l'intérieur et l'extérieur de l'ouverture de réception de boîte d'une distance supérieure à une hauteur de la boîte de stockage et pour permettre aux boîtes de stockage de passer verticalement directement d'un véhicule à guidage automatique à un autre véhicule à guidage automatique, et un organe de commande pour commander le mouvement du véhicule à guidage automatique dans un plan horizontal et pour commander le fonctionnement du dispositif de levage.
     
    4. Système de rangement selon la revendication 3, caractérisé en ce qu'un émetteur et un récepteur sont prévus pour une communication bilatérale entre le véhicule à guidage automatique et un ordinateur de commande centralisé pour commander plusieurs véhicules à guidage automatique et pour transmettre et recevoir des données de positionnement des véhicules à guidage automatique et des boîtes de stockage.
     
    5. Système de rangement selon l'une des revendications 3 ou 4, caractérisé en ce que l'ouverture de réception de boîte est dimensionnée pour recevoir quatre boîtes de stockage juxtaposées chacune de forme généralement rectangulaire sur une vue en plan.
     
    6. Système de rangement selon l'une quelconque des revendications 3 à 5, caractérisé en ce que le dispositif de levage est configuré pour déplacer les boîtes de stockage verticalement par rapport aux positions de stockage à la fois au-dessous et au-dessus du véhicule à guidage automatique et les supports sont des rails verticaux fixés sur le véhicule à guidage automatique et servant de guides pour confiner des boîtes de stockage pour le mouvement sensiblement vertical par rapport au véhicule à guidage automatique, les rails verticaux ayant des formations pour la coopération avec des formations coopérantes sur une boîte de stockage.
     
    7. Système de rangement selon l'une quelconque des revendications 3 à 6, caractérisé en ce que le dispositif de levage comprend des bras parallèles (31) pouvant tourner à l'unisson autour de l'une de leurs extrémités et ayant, au niveau des autres extrémités, des tourillons rétractables (32) pour coopérer avec des canaux de levage horizontaux (33) dans les côtés des boîtes où les bras parallèles sont agencés pour être positionnés le long des côtés des boîtes de stockages adjacentes, à l'usage.
     
    8. Système de rangement selon l'une quelconque des revendications 3 à 6, caractérisé en ce que le dispositif de levage comprend des ensembles de roues opposées et dirigées vers l'intérieur (51, 56) avec ou sans courroies (55), de chaque côté de chaque ouverture de réception de boîte du véhicule à guidage automatique de sorte que les roues ou courroies sont orientées vers l'intérieur vers l'ouverture de réception de boîte et peuvent être mises en prise de manière amovible avec les côtés (41) opposés d'une boîte de stockage présente dans l'ouverture.
     
    9. Système de rangement selon l'une quelconque des revendications 3 à 8, caractérisé en ce que les rails verticaux ont des formations pour coopérer avec des formations coopérantes sur une boîte de stockage afin de la supporter dans sa position opérationnelle.
     
    10. Système de rangement selon l'une quelconque des revendications 3 à 9, caractérisé en ce que l'ensemble de roues de support comprend quatre roues généralement aux coins du véhicule à guidage automatique généralement carré ;
    dans lequel chaque roue peut tourner autour de son propre axe horizontal et est montée sur un manchon (16) ;
    dans lequel le manchon peut tourner autour d'un axe vertical avec un ensemble d'entraînement ;
    dans lequel l'ensemble d'entraînement comprend un moteur (17) configuré pour entraîner sélectivement le manchon d'une position terminale à 90° jusqu'à une seconde position terminale de sorte que le véhicule à guidage automatique peut se déplacer dans une direction en angle droit par rapport à la première position terminale correspondante sans modifier son orientation.
     
    11. Système de rangement selon la revendication 10, caractérisé en ce que l'ensemble d'entraînement comprend des engrenages biseautés coopérants (18, 19) raccordés à un entraînement de moteur (17) afin de pouvoir entraîner le manchon de roue entre ses deux positions terminales lorsqu'un verrouillage ou frein amovible (21, 22) est dégagé et entraîner la roue elle-même lorsque le verrouillage ou frein amovible est mis en prise.
     
    12. Système de rangement selon la revendication 1 ou la revendication 2, caractérisé en ce qu'il comprend une ou plusieurs boîtes de stockage ayant deux côtés et deux extrémités, dans lequel les faces externes des deux côtés opposés ou des deux extrémités opposées ont des canaux de levage horizontaux (33) formés à l'intérieur de ces dernières pour la mise en prise par les tourillons rétractables portés par les bras de levage d'un véhicule à guidage automatique, ou des surfaces ou formations verticales sélectionnées à partir des surfaces de friction plates verticales, une formation de crémaillère verticale solidaire (71) et des rainures en forme de V tronqué (52), pour la mise en prise par des roues (51) ou des courroies (55) formant un dispositif de levage.
     
    13. Système de rangement selon la revendication 12, caractérisé en ce que les extrémités ou les côtés de la boîte comprennent des rainures de positionnement verticales (43) pour recevoir, en relation coulissante, des rails verticaux associés à un véhicule à guidage automatique selon l'une quelconque des revendications 3 à 11, dans lequel les rainures de positionnement verticales comprennent des mécanismes de verrouillage (45) associés à ces dernières pour interagir avec des formations dans des rails verticaux afin de supporter une boîte en position sur le véhicule à guidage automatique.
     
    14. Système de rangement selon l'une des revendications 12 ou 13, caractérisé en ce que la boîte est prévue avec un couvercle (47) ayant un joint d'étanchéité pour mettre en prise, de manière étanche, la périphérie d'une boîte à sommet ouvert, dans lequel le couvercle a un agencement de valve pour permettre de mettre l'intérieur de la boîte sous vide, au moins dans certaine mesure, pour améliorer l'étanchéité du couvercle sur la boîte.
     




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    Cited references

    REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



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    Patent documents cited in the description