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A firm grip no bean can escape - The 'Coffeerob' developed in Bremen has its first public appearance

Scientists of the BIBA Research Institute have developed a system that can automatically grip coffee sacks and unload them from containers / Introduction at the CeMAT 2008

It is hard work to lift and heave a coffee sack, to carry it, to place it on a pallet and then to return for the next one. Overseas containers are packed up to the ceiling with these sacks. Every sack weighs between 60 and 70 kilos depending on its country of origin. Although the sacks are only allowed to be carried in twos, this task can still cause a lot of damage to the spine.

Developments at the Bremen Institute for Production and Logistics GmbH (BIBA) at the University of Bremen shall relieve this strain. For the research project 'Coffeerob', elementary components were developed to create a system that automatically unloads bagged cargo from containers with the help of robots. It will now be presented to the public at the worlds' largest international logistic fair:

CeMAT - from the 27 to the 31 May in Hanover (BIBA-stand: hall 27, stand D12/1)

The robot system can recognise the stacking situation inside the containers; can grip the sacks using a special gripper and will be able to place them onto a conveyor in the future. The system consists of a robot, an image recognition system, a gripping and a transport system. The 'Coffeerob' can recognise the stacking situation inside the container using a 3D laser scanner. With its help it can determine the position of the sack using special software, in order to grip the sack and to place it onto a conveyor. A palletising system can be connected to the conveyor, which would stack the sacks onto a pallet.

In co-operation with the Berthold Vollers GmbH, BIBA has developed prototypical single components of the robot system and has analysed its possible implementation, application and profitability by conducting an additional feasibility study. A demonstrator proves the possible implementation of the system. The project was supported by the Bremen Economic Development Organisation (BIG) with funds from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). This program will secure and improve the innovation ability and competitiveness of businesses.

"The gripping system was a special challenge in this project", says the project leader Dr. Eng. Wolfgang Echelmeyer. "So far this system is the world-wide sole solution for unloading loose standardised goods of this weight and in this manner". The scientist working for the BIBA division Intelligent Production and Logistics Systems (IPS) is a robotics-logistics expert and has made a name for himself with the development of the 'ParcelRobot'. The system has had great International interest and has already been implemented successfully. For the new project BIBA could now fall back on their experiences from this development.

"The coffee sacks are not only very heavy, but also difficult to handle", says BIBA scientist Matthias Burwinkel, graduate in civil engineering. Additionally they consist of jute or sisal fibre, which also had to be taken into consideration. From time to time he even had to get a broom to sweep up the coffee beans during the test phases of the 'Coffeerob'. "But that is all part my research work", he laughs. However the system is now working without ripping holes into the sacks.

The shipper is happy. Project partner Vollers operates on a global scale. In Bremen alone nearly 200,000 tons of coffee were moved in the past year, of which 64,000 tons were transported in sacks. "In this project we are mainly interested in the ergonomically burdened workstations", says Christian Vollers, explaining his motivation to get involved in this project. The work should be made easier in future. The managing director of this long-established company said "...the search for practical solutions was long". He had read about the ParcelRobot and took advantage of the location. "We had the right logistic and robotic specialists for this project at our door step", he says. Now he is thinking about implementing the system in his company. "With this system we can also meet future demands of ergonomic workstations".

Berthold Vollers GmbH
The company was established in 1932 and now mainly focuses on the storage and transportation of raw coffee. Gradually the range of products and services was broadened. With internationally established clientele and locations in Bremen, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Riga, Tallinn, Klaipedaas and Moscow, the Vollers Group has developed into a broadly operating logistic company with approx. 320 employees. Today warehousing and distribution, as well as document processing and custom clearance, sampling, weighing, mixing, blending and transportation of various commodities are part of their comprehensive range of services. Generally these commodities include coffee, cocoa, tea, bakery seeds, tobacco, cotton, wool, yarn, metals and other general cargos.
Bremer Investitions-Gesellschaft mbH (BIG)
Under the name BIG Bremen - Economic Development, this Bremen investment organisation acts as a central service-providing body in Bremen. Together with its subsidiaries, the Bremen Bank of Economic Expansion (Aufbau-Bank GmbH) and the Bremer Design GmbH, it contributes significantly to regional and economic development of this business location and also to safety and creation of employment in Bremen.
Bremen Institute for Production and Logistics GmbH (BIBA)
BIBA is a scientific engineering research institute that specialises on technical and organisational questions of production and logistic systems. It analyses and develops solutions and converts these in companies of all sectors, sizes and nationalities in a practice-oriented manner. Within different research divisions BIBA works with approx. 100 people from different areas such as production technology, scientific engineering, computer science, physics, electro technology and similar scientific disciplines. BIBA works in research associations and is significantly involved in various collaborative research centres of German research communities at the University of Bremen. It is also leader in the collaborative research centre 637 Automation of Logistic Processes.

Further contacts:

Dr.-Eng. Wolfgang Echelmeyer (BIBA, Head of Department),
Telephone: +49 (173) 616 36 83, Email:
Civil Engineer Matthias Burwinkel (BIBA, Project Leader),
Telephone: +49 (421) 218 56 35 or +49 (176) 63 00 88 44, Email:
Economist Nicole Pfeffermann (BIBA, Communication of Innovations),
Telephone: +49 (421) 218 5618 or +49) (178) 45 97 987, Email:
Christian Vollers (Vollers, Managing Director),
Telephone: +49 (421) 38 92-130, Email:
Andrea Spohn (Vollers, PR),
Telephone: +49 (421) 38 92-220, Email:
Weitere Informationen: (download photos: Press Service, Press Release 2008) (download photos: Press Service)

Sabine Nollmann | idw
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