20.07.2022 - Startups, Transport & logistics

Latvian company SmartTeh will help load trucks faster

SmartTeh, a manufacturer of loading equipment, is developing a new container loading system that helps automated loading of freight containers or trucks. The pilot system is expected to save 70% of loading time and reduce COemissions.

Mārtiņš Niķis, co-owner of SmartTeh, says that automation is moving to an ever-higher level around the world. High-volume companies want to reduce the human factor as much as possible. This means automated warehouses without human-operated forklift trucks, which carry the goods themselves and place them where they are needed.

“But one question remains unanswered: how to load the shipment into the truck as quickly as possible with fewer people? This is the bottle neck in all warehouses,” says Niķis.

With this in mind, the company has started work on an automated loading system. “This will be a unique container loading complex in the world,” he says.

SmartTeh, an industrial equipment design, and manufacturing company, has been in operation since 2016. The company develops the entire system from scratch: from concept to delivery to the customer. In some processes, the company cooperates with partners, but mostly all processes take place at its own production facility in Ulbroka. SmartTeh has customers in 17 countries, the furthest of which is in Australia.

“The equipment we produce is not limited by logistical factors, so our market is limitless,” says Niķis.

He and the other owner of the company, Jānis Grava, are friends. Grava had a background in metalworking, while Niķis had experience in sales. They saw the potential for improving efficiency in the cargo industry and decided to start a joint business. The partners have now developed to the point where SmartTeh had a turnover of 1.4 million euros in 2021 and employs 35 people.

Solving the Most Painful Problem

One of the modules of the automated loading system is a sliding floor. In many cases, companies use pallets and large bags that are loaded into containers or trucks. With SmartTeh’s new technology, the cargo is loaded onto the sliding floor, which then places it into a container or truck.

“In automated warehouses, unmanned pallet suppliers bring the products to a stacking module and slide the load onto conveyors, which then load the goods into a truck or container. There is no human involvement in the process, only supervision,” says Niķis.

Manufacturing companies are increasingly focusing on sustainability issues, including the number of pallets to be used, which is an additional logistics cost and a drain on natural resources. SmartTeh is therefore developing modules within this project that will allow goods to be moved in a container without a pallet. As a result, the pallet remains in the company and can be reused. “Competing companies produce equipment that only turns the goods, thus getting rid of the pallet, while we want to integrate these ideas and solutions into a single technological process from the start to the loading itself,” says Niķis.

Asked about the company’s capacity, he says that in the current premises it could be two to three automated loaders per month. But the company is targeting much larger volumes. The current facility is intended to remain as an experimental workshop and production will take place in other premises in the future.

Helping to Reduce CO2 Emissions

“SmartTeh has calculated that the new system will save 754 tonnes of COper year compared to the situation when the load is loaded with conventional forklift trucks. The savings are achieved not only through the innovative slip-in method, but also because the loads can be packed more compactly. For example, where a conventional load could be moved with ten trucks, by stacking them more intelligently, the same load can be moved with eight or nine trucks.

The company has secured funding for the new technology from the Norwegian Financial Mechanism’s 2014-2021 program “Enterprise Development, Innovation and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises” under the small grants scheme “Green Innovation and Information and Communication Technology Product Development”. SmartTeh has attracted a Norwegian co-funding of almost 130,000 euros and the total project budget is 225,500 euros. The project will be completed in April next year. The new machine will be developed in cooperation with the Norwegian partner Norwest entreprenør. Cooperation with a research organization is also planned.

Developing Different Handling Solutions

The company is also developing container and bulk handling solutions, as well as equipment for warehouses and logistics parks.

“Container transport is evolving at a very fast pace, so all companies have a need for automation,” says Niķis.

For one customer in the US, the company developed a machine that allows products to be loaded much faster and more compactly, as the loading process itself does not require any free space in the container. This allowed a 25% increase in the volume handled per container. “In the past, it took several hours to load a shipment, now it is a matter of minutes. The customer sends thousands of containers every year, this is a huge benefit for them. The customer recouped the cost of the equipment we supplied within a few months,” says Niķis.

He admits that now that the company has many projects in its experience to tell potential customers about, it is much easier to get cooperation. But in the early days, when there were no concrete precedents, just promises and ideas, it was much harder. The company managed to prove itself and now counts well-known companies such as ABB, StoraEnso, Tata Steel, and others among its clients. Niķis says that initially there was a lot of support from local Latvian customers: thanks to their trust, the first machines were created and it allowed to open doors to other markets.

Source: labsoflatvia.com


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