A part of a 50-year-old engineering organization Hitech Gears, Hitech Robotics was started in 2004 by Anuj Kapuria, a PhD in robotics and self-driving vehicles. For its first ten years, Hitech worked primarily in the defence sector, which was the only area looking for self-driving vehicles. Multiple projects including self-driving tanks, drones and robots were built for picking up mines. These remote-controlled autonomous and guided vehicles that could identify obstacles were never commercialized for industry.
The industrial automation business began five years ago with the manufacture of automated guided vehicles (AGVs), primarily meant for material movement in factories and warehouses. Hitech made an AGV where a magnetic tape laid on a ground is used as a guidance mechanism. The magnetic tape based AGV always travels on a fixed path as defined by the strip laid on the ground.
Hitech’s AMR for industrial purposes
Two years ago, the company began manufacturing Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) where no magnetic tape is needed to guide the vehicle. The robot uses the existing infrastructure and obstructions of plant to identify its route. It uses reference points to create an artificial map with the free spaces available to it for movement.
“The walls, pillars and fixed machines are used as reference points by the robot, which creates an artificial map. The free space in that map is what the robot identifies as the space on which it can move. And then we can plot multiple pick and drop points for the robot and it goes to those specific destinations using those reference points as its guidance points,” says Deepak Gupta, vice president – Global Sales, Hitech Robotics Systemz.
Self-driven fork lifts
Hitech has more than 300 installations in Haryana, Kerala, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Automotives is the primary sector that the company supplies to and apart from that, it supplies to newspapers, electronics, consumer durables and FMCG plants. Hitech’s latest innovation is self-driven fork lifts. However, the company’s focus lately has been on autonomous vehicles. The first two units have been installed at one of ITC’s packaging plants.
“This is a core artificial intelligence based solution. As the industry revolves around it, the infrastructure and mindset has to be ready for it. If the fork lifts are running autonomously in plants, safety becomes the priority. If a fork lift is driven by a human, he can identify the barriers and manually maneuver the vehicle. But if an autonomous vehicle is moving, then safety becomes the first priority of the supplier.
“In that case, we have to make the system ready with a lot of high-end technology for safety and secondly, we have to convince the client about the benefits of such a technology. There are some prerequisites to run these vehicles in a factory. It has to have a smooth passage, the footfall must be minimal, and there should be fixed pickup and drop points. We are now able to develop an upgrade that would allow the vehicle to take an alternative path to arrive at its designated destination,” says Tanuj Sharma, head of Program Management & Delivery at Hitech Robotics.
Installations in newspaper and packaging segments
Currently, Hitech supplies AMRs and AGVs to all the newspaper printing plants of Dinamalar and Malayala Manorama for delivering newsprint reels from the store to the press towers. The company is also in discussion with Times of India for its Sahibabad plant and hopes to come up with something concrete very soon. The AMRs and AGVs supplied by Hitech come in variants of payload, which starts at 100 kg and can go up to 2000 kg. In fact, for some automotive customers, the company has developed variants that can carry upto 4 tons of industrial load.
The company has also supplied its automation to ITC for its tobacco product packaging plant in Bengaluru. It is a 1.5 ton autonomous self-driven fork lift which is capable of carrying the finished pallet from the production floor to the warehouse. Hitech has also received inquiries from South East Asia and East Asia for its automated self-driven vehicles. Gupta claims that these companies found the products offered by Hitech to be far more economical as compared to companies based in Europe. The company has distributors in Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, among other countries.