60 years AGV

Automated transport solutions

The success story of ek robotics

Through inventive spirit and courage to progress: With the presentation of one of the first automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in the early 1960s to the development of the first automated series industrial trucks to today's innovative high-tech transport robotics, the history of automated guided vehicles is closely linked to the company history of ek robotics GmbH.

 

Automated guided vehicles as key technology for highly efficient processes

Optimally timed material flow, improved occupational safety and reduced operating costs: By using an automated guided vehicle system, companies can achieve sustainable increases in efficiency and thus promote long-term site security. Our long-standing expertise has been valued by international companies for decades. With our convincing support throughout the entire life cycle of an AGV, we offer our global customers reliable support even many years after commissioning.

Dieter Eilers & Jürgen Kirf (E&K)

On December 11, 1980, electrical engineer Dieter Eilers (pictured left) founded the Ingenieurbüro Eilers GmbH in Buchholz, Lower Saxony. A few weeks after the foundation (January 1981), the electrical engineer Jürgen Kirf (on picture right) joined the company as the second owner.

Eilers and Kirf, former work colleagues at an industrial electronics company, faced an unexpected challenge when their former employer ran into financial difficulties and became insolvent. As a result, they took on responsibility for their former company's ongoing projects, launching a new professional phase and further deepening their expertise in the industry.

Today, the company is still owner-managed and has developed into a leading global manufacturer and integrator of automated guided vehicles for production and warehouse logistics. With five international locations and over 300 dedicated employees, the group of companies has established a firm place at the forefront of the AGV industry through the successful integration of Indumat GmbH & Co KG from Reutlingen. For 60 years now, the core competence of ek robotics has been the automation and efficiency of internal material flows using the most advanced robot technology.

 

Solutions and engineering for industrial electronics

From 1980 to 1988, the engineering company focused on the development of innovative solutions and designs for industrial electronics before entering the field of automated guided vehicles (AGVs). The product portfolio included customized microprocessor-based measuring devices and the complete automation of production and cleaning processes.

In the early years, Eilers and Kirf also developed proven solutions for breweries and for the control of machines and large tank farms in the dairy and beverage industries. Towards the end of the 1990s, the company became an official Siemens Solutions Partner and implemented process controls for wastewater treatment plants on cruise ships worldwide.

The innovative expertise of the young engineering firm and the continuing trend towards more efficient processes in intralogistics enabled the company to quickly win international customers and partners, ranging from East Asia to Europe and South America.

Briefly explained

ek robotics (previously: EK Automation) was founded on December 11, 1980. In 1996, the company acquired all the AGV shares of Demag Jungheinrich FTS GmbH, marking the beginning of ek robotics' rise to become the leading supplier of automated industrial trucks.

In 2001, Indumat GmbH & Co KG (formerly Wagner Fördertechnik) was taken over together with its employees and their know-how. Many of the AGV experts are still active in the company today. These decades of experience and expertise in the field of transport robotics form the solid foundation for the success of ek robotics as one of the most experienced and established manufacturers of AGVs on the global market.

In July 2021, the company changed its name to
ek robotics. During its success story, over 12,000 transport robots have been installed in more than 1,500 plants worldwide.

 



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Technological milestones since 1963

 

 

1963

Start of European AGV developments

In 1953, Wagner Fördertechnik from Reutlingen developed the first electric forklift and in the early 1960s began research into automating these vehicles so that they could be operated without human attendants - a decisive step towards the development of driverless transport vehicles.

The inventive spirit paid off: In 1965, Indumat GmbH & Co KG presented the first automated guided vehicle. A pallet truck that was visually controlled by a guiding line placed on the floor. 1967 followed the presentation of the first automatically controlled forklift, inductively guided with the (at that time) advanced multi-frequency technology. Indumat was a pioneer in the European AGV industry and was acquired by ek robotics (then E&K Automation) in 2001.

 

 

1970er

AUTOMATED TUGS AND PALLET TRUCKS

In the 1970s, experts developed the first systems with automated tow vehicles and pallet trucks that could travel in both directions and were capable of automatically coupling trailers. Initially, the destination points for these vehicles were programmed using punch cards or master computers with keyboard connections. Later, the automated guided vehicles were equipped with microprocessor controls.

1980er

Ongoing automation trend

The trend towards automation has found its way into various industries and companies of different sizes. The then Indumat GmbH & Co KG was already closely involved with driverless transport systems in the logistics industry in the early 1970s. At that time, its customer base already included well-known companies from various sectors such as the automotive and glass industries as well as paper processing.

Towards the end of the 1980s, the engineering firm Eilers & Kirf took over the entire development in the field of electrics, layout development and commissioning of driverless transport systems for Jungheinrich AG.

 

 

 

 

1990er

From engineering office to plant constructor

From 1993, Eilers and Kirf continued this work for Demag Jungheinrich FTS GmbH, a joint venture between Jungheinrich AG and Mannesmann Dematic.

In 1996, Eilers and Kirf made a decisive change in their corporate orientation. By taking over all AGV business activities of Demag Jungheinrich FTS GmbH, the engineering company developed into a mechanical and plant engineering company with its own product portfolio and the independent implementation of AGV projects. This business integration marked the beginning of the company's rise to become one of the leading suppliers of automated material handling equipment.

In 1998 the company was renamed to Eilers & Kirf GmbH.

 

 

 

2000er

New HQ and acquisition of Indumat GMbH & CO. KG

In 2001, Eilers & Kirf GmbH moved its headquarters to new premises in Nenndorf, Rosengarten. At the same time, one of the most important competitors in the field of AGVs, Indumat GmbH & Co KG with locations in Reutlingen as well as subsidiaries in Great Britain and Italy, were acquired. Jürgen Kirf explained: "Indumat stands for industrial automation. In the logistics scene, this name was already closely associated with AGVs in the early 1960s."

The integration of Indumat has enabled Eilers and Kirf to consolidate their position as an even stronger supplier of AGVs on the European market.

 

 

 

2003

Subsidiary in the Czech Republic

In 2003, Eilers & Kirf GmbH acquired a stake in a Czech company for automated guided vehicles, which was later fully taken over. A comprehensive AGV system commissioned in 1996 at Motol, the largest Czech hospital, is still being serviced by the AGV experts today.

 

 

 

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2010er

Honored with the Future Logistics Award

In 2008, the group of companies consisted of five independent companies operating in four European countries and employing a total of around 150 people. In order to exploit synergies, the German subsidiaries in Reutlingen and Rosengarten were merged, and the foreign subsidiaries operated from then on under a single company name: E&K Automation.

In 2008, E&K Automation GmbH successfully implemented the automation of narrow-aisle forklifts with an impressive transfer height of over 10 meters based on the Linde K-Series. The company developed the POS250 software, which has been used for the fault-free storage and retrieval of pallets since 2008. This achievement led to E&K Automation receiving the "Logistics of the Future" Award in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region in 2011. Shortly thereafter, the successor POS3D was introduced, which is based on 3D object recognition and thus enabled the safe automated stacking of unstable loads in industrial applications.

 

 

 

2011

Change of ownership at E&K Automation

In May 2011, the entrepreneur family Böttner took over E&K Automation GmbH. Andreas J. Böttner has been actively involved in the company's management for more than 12 years and was appointed CEO in 2018. The corporate culture introduced and shaped by the founders Dieter Eilers and Jürgen Kirf is still characterized by an ongoing enthusiasm for transport robotics, a flat hierarchy and a tireless spirit of invention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015

Material flow simulation for complex systems

E&K's portfolio not only includes proven transport solutions, it also offers comprehensive complementary services such as material flow simulation. With the help of this simulation, a detailed 3D representation of a planned transport system can be created, which can also be used to determine the optimal number of vehicles.

Particularly in complex intralogistics projects, it is crucial to collect as much data as possible in advance in order to precisely map all relevant interrelationships. In this way, potential system limits, bottlenecks, blockages and the corresponding possible solutions can be identified even before the actual implementation.

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seit 2015

New benchmarks in transport robotics

With the introduction of the SMART MOVE vehicle series in 2015,  
FAST MOVE in 2018 and VARIO MOVE in 2020, the AGV experts are constantly setting new benchmarks in the automation industry.

The MEDI MOVE transport platform (further developed in 2023) meets the highest hygiene requirements while offering maximum transport performance in hospitals and cleanrooms.

The Li-Ion batteries installed as standard in all vehicles are maintenance-free over their entire service life and thus contribute to low total costs over the entire product life cycle. Customized CUSTOM MOVE and HEAVY MOVE have been part of the product portfolio for many decades and serve as tailor-made solutions for demanding transport tasks.

 

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Various special solutions

The transport robots perform a wide range of transport tasks, including complex challenges that have to be solved around the clock. Already in the early history of the company, E&K realized highly complex automated guided vehicles, including those with over 100 customized transport robots.

The variety of these individual transport solutions ranges from highly complex automation processes for supplying the entire hospital logistics to heavy transports with a load weight of up to 50 tons to combined indoor and outdoor transports for connecting several production halls on a factory site.

E&K's international partners and customers range from East Asia to Europe to South America, and are as diverse in terms of industry affiliation and company size as the different transportation requirements E&K handles.

 

ALL AGV SOLUTIONS AT A GLANCE

 

2021

Rebranding

Since July 1, 2021, E&K Automation has been operating as ek robotics. The central element of the new brand identity is the Infinity symbol as the new logo. The variety of colors and visualization of infinite possibilities through multiple lines forming a continuous cycle characterize the distinctive look of the "Infinite colors of transport" and at the same time embody the claim highlighting the expertise of the independent family-owned company.

Andreas Böttner, CEO of ek robotics, explains: "Our roots are in industrial automation. But autonomous and automated transport solutions with robots is what we do today. ek robotics stands for an infinite variety of solutions and signals that we always offer each of our customers the best transport solution for every task and challenge without exception."

 

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2021

The smart check-up for AGVs

With SARA (Smart Analytics Reporting Application) 
ek robotics provides its customers and operators of automated guided vehicles with a powerful tool to analyze their systems quickly and comprehensively.

The reporting and analysis tool enables a detailed evaluation of the AGV system and offers recommendations for the continuous optimization of the overall system. Users can track the development of their system over its useful life, evaluate transport performance and get a complete overview of production times, system utilization and interruptions. SARA identifies optimization potential, performance peaks and conspicuous routes in various industries.

 

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2022

2-in-1 transport platform for AGV and AMR

As the world's first transport platform, the 
X MOVE can be used in either an AGV or an AMR system. The choice between these two transport systems in a company's automated production depends primarily on the purpose and area of application.

For this innovation, the 2-in-1 transport robot X MOVE was awarded the Best of Industry Award 2023 in the conveyor technology category.

 

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2022

Experience virtually what is possible in reality

With the new Mobile Robot Experience app, automated transport robots can be experienced virtually and on the move. Through augmented reality (AR), full-size 3D vehicles are moved in the real environment via the camera function of end devices. The app's user interface is simple and intuitive, enabling precise control of selected models and their load handling devices.

 

 

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2023

Robot Operations Center (ROC)

With the novel concept of the Robot Operations Center (ROC),
ek robotics expands its comprehensive technology portfolio. With ROC, tasks that could not previously be automated with complete process reliability can be solved by combining teleoperation and artificial intelligence. An innovation that increases the automation potential of automated guided vehicles in the long term.

 

 

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in 2023

New headquarters in Hamburg

After more than 20 years in the Lower Saxony district of Nenndorf in the municipality of Rosengarten, ek robotics is relocating its corporate headquarters to Hamburg. The new headquarters at  extends over five floors and consists of an L-shaped building complex with an office area of about 6,800 square meters and an assembly, test and development hall of about 3,200 square meters. This new building provides space for more than 400 experts.

 

Discover the latest information about ek robotics in our Newsblog:

Newsblog

 

 

 

 

 

The success story continues after more than six decades.