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Published: November 2017      

VDL steps up autonomous driving

VDL Groep is strengthening its position in the field of smart mobility.

VDL, the family-owned industrial group with its head office in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, is demonstrating that autonomous electric driving is already available, and forms the basis for future mobility and connectivity concepts that will have a major impact on freight and passenger transport.

As reported last month (WorldCargo News, October 2017, p1), VDL recently delivered its first driverless terminal tractor to logistics company Katoen Natie in Singapore, for transporting semi-trailers for Exxon-Mobil. The pilot truck, which has a top speed of 25 kph, is used to transport polymer resin products from a packaging facility to a warehouse 3-4 km away at the oil company’s manufacturing plant on Jurong Island.

The vehicle’s functionalities will be steadily increased between now and the spring of 2018, including the number of trailer collection and delivery points. Katoen Natie plans to increase the number of VDL trucks to 12 after the pilot project ends in 3-6 months, and eventually to 18.

Move to satellite

The software and equipment that make automatic driving possible were prepared by VDL in the Netherlands, and the machine was assembled at the VDL unit in Singapore. Initially, the trucks will drive on Exxon-Mobil’s premises equipped with electronic beacons and embedded transponders.

In a second phase, they will be deployed on Jurong Island, where they will have to find their way around using satellite navigation. Eventually, the plan is that they will operate in normal traffic in Singapore. Provisionally, this could be as early as 2020.

The driverless trucks are a solution for Katoen Natie’s operations in Singapore, where local drivers are hard to find, and the government wants to reduce the number of foreign drivers. “The chemical industry will see some very significant growth in the decade to come, and finding the drivers to handle these volumes will become a very big challenge for all of us,” said Koen Cardon, CEO of Katoen Natie Singapore. This project is not about eliminating jobs, but is a means to upgrade the skills of operators.”

He said the company is already in talks with Singapore’s Transport Ministry and other government agencies, to expand the permit routes within Jurong Island, and ultimately to a port using public roads.

“It’s good to see that our automated trucks are making logistics more efficient and safer, and increasingly easy to fit into existing logistics chains,” said Karel Smits, manager of VDL Automated Vehicles, speaking in Singapore.

The right chemistry

In May this year, WorldCargo News reported (p28) BASF’s plans to transform the internal logistics of its massive chemicals plant in Ludwigshaven, Germany, switching from tanker wagon loading and train marshalling, to a much faster intermodal solution involving highly customised 45ft and 52ft tank containers, railhead ASCs from Hans Künz, spreaders, and lifting AGVs and stillages (or frames) from VDL.

This is a huge transformation, as it currently takes around 22 hours to transport a tank car between any of the site’s 150 filling stations and the train station on the maze of internal rail tracks. With the new automated system, at regime, the object is to reduce the time to just one hour.

Following the success with the pilot AGV and frames, BASF has placed a follow-up order for AGVs and more than 100 frames from VDL, as it takes delivery of more of the new generation of tank containers from Magyar and Van Hool, together with AGV battery charging stations, traffic control systems and infrastructure.

The AGVs are operating in a manned environment, and, moreover, whole-sale automation is being installed at a 130-year-old brownfield site. The modular vehicle construction has been adapted in such a way that a certified level of safety (TÜV SIL2) is achieved, with smart integration of computers, cameras, sensors and scanners.

“This follow-up order from BASF is a confirmation of our team’s performance, and is also essential to our next development step,” said Karel Smits. “Thanks to the customer’s confidence in us, we are at the forefront of autonomous heavy-duty transportation.” The fully electric vehicles will cover routes over a distance of more than 100 km, at a maximum speed of 30 kph. Manufacturing work on the AGVs will start in January, and the deliveries will take place from H2 2018.

The new AGV is a development of the existing VDL AGV for port use. The 16-axle, 18m-long vehicle is claimed to be the first AGV in the world where the surrounding area no longer needs to be physically protected by a fence, or in which a ‘guard’ has to ride.

When empty, the AGVs weigh 28t, and, when laden, up to 113t. As noted, they are self-(un)loading, and, furthermore, are just 1.15m tall. This means that, when loaded, they can navigate easily under the existing pipes and lines that are part of the local infrastructure....

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This complete item is approximately 1000 words in length, and appeared in the November 2017 issue of WorldCargo News, on page 23.

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