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ek robotics celebrates 60 years of automated guided vehicles

The foundations of this family-owned company ek robotics were laid 60 years ago and have continued the development of automated transport solutions and realize optimal material flows for efficient intralogistics in almost every industry. With this long company history and comprehensive expertise, ek robotics is inseparably associated with automated guided vehicles and innovative automation technologies.

Through inventive spirit and courage to progress: With the presentation of one of the first transport robots in 1963 to the development of the first automated series industrial trucks to today's innovative high-tech transport robotics: the history of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) is closely linked to the company history of ek robotics. The family business is the leading global manufacturer and integrator of automated guided vehicles for production and warehouse logistics. The company employs more than 300 people at five international locations and is one of the pioneers in the AGV sector thanks to the business integration of Indumat GmbH & Co KG from Reutlingen in Germany.

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. "The foundation of our expertise are our AGV experts. They bring decades of experience to the company and set new benchmarks in the automation industry with their innovative developments," says Andreas J. Böttner, who is the CEO of ek robotics since 2018.

During its success story, the high-tech company for transport robotics has installed over 12,000 vehicles in more than 1,500 systems worldwide and has played a key role in shaping the technological development of automated guided vehicles over the past decades - formerly under the company name E&K Automation. "Over the past decades, we have developed from a small engineering company for process automation into a high-tech company for transport robotics, and we have been showing this with our new brand identity since July 2021. Our origins are in industrial automation, but implementing automated transport solutions with robots is what we do today. ek robotics stands for an infinite variety of solutions and represents that we offer each of our customers the best transport solution for any task without exception," says Böttner.

To this day, the corporate culture introduced by founders Dieter Eilers and Jürgen Kirf is characterized by an enduring passion for transport robotics, flat hierarchies and the tireless spirit of invention. The success story continues after more than six decades: At the end of 2023, ek robotics moves into its new headquarters in the cosmopolitan city of Hamburg, thus laying the foundation for further corporate growth in the automation industry.

 

Convincing innovations for the automation industry

In 2008, the company successfully implemented the automation of narrow-aisle trucks with transfer heights in excess of 10 meters based on the Linde K series. The company developed the POS250 software, which has been used since 2008 for fault-tolerant storage and retrieval of pallets. In 2011, the company was awarded the Future Logistics Prize for the Hamburg metropolitan region. A short time later, the successor POS3D, which is based on 3D object recognition, was launched on the market. This enabled the fail-safe, automated stacking of unstable loads in an industrial application. With the launch of the vehicle series VARIO MOVE, FAST MOVE, X MOVE and MEDI MOVE, the AGV experts have been setting new benchmarks for automated transport solutions for various industries since 2018.

The transport robots of the VARIO MOVE series, which has won several awards (reddot Award 2022, German Design Award and iF Award 2023), impress with a modular and high-performance construction kit, while the compact FAST MOVE model series with its flat design and omnidirectional surface mobility enable maximum maneuverability in production or logistics areas. With five different transport platforms of the X MOVE series, ek robotics was the first AGV manufacturer to combine AGV and AMR technologies in one vehicle in 2022 and was awarded the Best of Industry Award in the materials handling category for this innovation in 2023. Since 2023, the further developed transport platform of the MEDI MOVE series has also been part of the ek robotics product portfolio, which meets the highest hygiene requirements with maximum transport performance in hospitals and clean rooms.

 

 

Maximum efficiency with automated guided vehicles

The international partners and customers of ek robotics range from East Asia to Europe to South America, and their industry affiliation and company size are just as diverse as the individual transport requirements that ek robotics has to manage". The transport tasks that our AGVs have to perform, in some cases around the clock, could not be more different. Implementing automated material transport between several production and logistics areas with fully automated storage and retrieval is one of the most demanded automation processes. We also implemented complex automated guided vehicles early in our company's history with customized transport robots, thus constantly expanding our solution expertise," says Ronald Kretschmer, CSO at ek robotics.

The variety of these custom-fit solutions ranges from highly complex automation processes for supplying the entire hospital logistics over several floors, automated heavy transports with a total weight of up to 50 tons to combined indoor and outdoor transports for connecting several production halls on a factory site.  "One impact of AGVs will always remain the same," Kretschmer underlines, "AGV users benefit from transparent material flows, reliable and safe material transport, increased efficiency and a very long service life of the system".

The ongoing shortage of skilled workers has also become an influencing factor for the implementation of automated guided vehicles: Automated transport solutions enable available skilled workers to be deployed more efficiently. In addition, transport robots can be used for heavy, dangerous and monotonous tasks. "Automated guided vehicles are a key technology in intralogistics and a significant driver of efficiency in innovative processes," says Kretschmer. "We are sure that the general automation trend will continue to accelerate. We will continue to benefit from our decades of expertise in the transport robotics industry in the coming years. The growing global AGV market offers us the opportunity to grow with it and continuously develop our diverse solution and production portfolio."

Current research projects and technology concepts from ek robotics prove that the frontiers of today's automation are shifting with every innovation. CEO Andreas J. Böttner is also convinced that automated guided vehicles continue to be the elementary transport solution of modern intralogistics: "Our current research projects are several steps ahead, are anticipating future trends and will define the next evolutionary stage of transport robotics. Pushing the boundaries of what is possible and making every transport task feasible for our customers - these are the Infinite Colors of Transport, this is ek robotics".

 

Discover our Case Studies about AGV Solutions

Company founders Dieter Eilers (left) and Jürgen Kirf (right)

In 2001, Indumat GmbH & Co KG (formerly Wagner Fördertechnik) was taken over by ek robotics together with its employees and their know-how.

The former Indumat GmbH & Co KG was already closely associated with driverless transport systems in the logistics sector in the early 1970s.

The decades of experience and expertise of Indumat GmbH & Co KG 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 2001, Eilers & Kirf GmbH moved its headquarters to new premises in Nenndorf, Rosengarten, Lower Saxony.

"The foundation of our expertise is our numerous AGV experts. They bring decades of experience to the company and set new benchmarks in the automation industry with their innovative developments," says Andreas J. Böttner, who has been CEO of ek robotics since 2018.