Colruyt Group and STILL develop innovative self driving pallet trucks: man and technology in harmony

Colruyt Group and STILL develop innovative self driving pallet trucks: man and technology in harmony

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Colruyt Group and STILL are launching a self-developed, automatically driving pallet truck. The first two units of this Self Driving Vehicle (SDV) will set to work today at Colruyt Group's Dassenveld distribution centre in Halle. These SDVs will complement and facilitate the work of the employees at Dassenveld and work in harmony with them. Simultaneously with the further roll-out for Colruyt Group, STILL is also marketing the new concept to third parties.

Starting today, Colruyt Group’s logistics staff will be working alongside the new Self Driving pallet trucks from STILL at the Dassenveld distribution center in Halle. The pallet trucks take on part of the work, consider the people around them, and effortlessly locate every pallet in the distribution center, thanks to advanced technology.

"The launch of these SDVs (Self Driving Vehicles) is the result of the collaboration between Colruyt Group and STILL," says Kim Vancauwenberghe, in charge of Colruyt Group Smart Technics, Colruyt Group’s Innovation Hub. "We develop the software, STILL provides the translation to the hardware. It's the perfect blend of power and intelligence."

Man and technology in harmony

In less than two years since the start of the collaboration, Colruyt Group and STILL present a new concept that was developed in complete harmony with human performance. The logistics employees of Colruyt provided extensive input during various testing phases. Thus, a solution was developed that fits perfectly within a busy and challenging logistics operation, typical of the retail sector.

The new SDV recognizes and processes both euro and block pallets and was specially designed to move palettes from the reception area to the correct location in the distribution center, after which the orders for the stores can be picked up by the order pickers.

"The main advantage with these devices is that navigation does not require modifications to the existing structure such as reflectors, and the time to get a working truck deployed is much shorter. That has been reduced from weeks to a few days, just because they adapt so easily to new situations." Says Jasper van Gool, Program Manager, STILL Belgium.

Koen De Vos, Director Supply Chain Colruyt Lowest Prices: "The SDVs help us move pallets within the distribution center in Dassenveld, Halle. This allows employees to be deployed in more complex tasks or processes that require specific knowledge and skills. This creates new tasks and interactions with the SDV. It's for good reason that our slogan is 'with people and technology in harmony’”.

Groundbreaking technology

The SDVs are designed for maximum efficiency and robustness. By using Lithium Titan Oxide batteries that require faster and less frequent charging, productivity is maximized, keeping operational costs low.

The trucks recognize their environment and the objects within using LIDAR (Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging) and SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) technology. "You teach them their task once by demonstrating it," explains Jasper van Gool.

In-house development

"We did not find a suitable truck on the market that met all our requirements," says Kim Vancauwenberghe of Smart Technics. "That's why we took on this challenge ourselves and worked out an initial solution with the help of The Flemish Agency for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO). We also know from experience that this kind of project only succeeds with the right partner. This we have found in STILL."

"We have a proven success when it comes to automation and bring trucks on the market that also prove at Colruyt Group that they can handle everything in their path," Luc de Boes, Country Manager STILL Belgium adds. "We also recognise ourselves in Colruyt Group's passion, expertise and commitment to simplicity. The human element is central and that is a strong basis for trust. In agreement with Colruyt Group, we as STILL are now offering this concept exclusively to third parties within the Benelux. We expect the potential for this SDV to be very high."

Koen De Vos, Director Supply Chain Colruyt Lowest Prices: "For us, too, this was an interesting and educational development process, in which the knowledge and input of our employees on the one hand and testing in a real-life environment on the other hand have proven to be a clear added value. It was great to experience and see the enthusiasm of our people grow as we got closer to our goal with each newer and better version."

Ready for the future

Colruyt Group has confidence in the technology. Further developments are being considered, albeit in the longer term. Koen De Vos adds, "The first step is now the introduction of the SDVs in the distribution centers of Colruyt Lowest Prices, followed by the distribution centers of other retail formats within Colruyt Group. In total, Colruyt Group will acquire 85 SDVs, of which the first 24 have been ordered. In parallel, we continue discussions with STILL about possibilities for the future."