European Business Journal features intelligent materials handling by Rocla

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) are mobile, driverless robots that increase efficiency and reduce costs in a growing number of applications, from raw materials and finished products handling in manufacturing and logistics businesses to material transports in the food industry. A world leader in this sophisticated market is Rocla Solutions Oy in Finland. The Scandinavian specialist provides total AGV solutions that boost customer performance, profitability and safety at work.

Rocla develops, manufactures and markets Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV), electric warehouse trucks and electric forklifts and provides complete service throughout its products’ life cycles. “Our core business is intelligent material handling solutions and services,” says Akseli Summa, executive vice president of the Finnish company. The warehouse trucks are used indoors for the storage and distribution of all kinds of products, while the Cat® counterbalance trucks supplied by Rocla are designed for both indoor and outdoor use to meet the most diverse materials handling applications. Rocla’s special expertise, though, is in Automated Guided Vehicles, which the company has been developing and producing since 1983. “To date, we have delivered more than 7,000 vehicles in more than 1,000 automation projects all over the world,” states Mr. Summa. Rocla AGVs are durable, flexible and modular solutions with short delivery and ROI times. They are based on proven technology familiar from the company’s warehouse trucks to ensure excellent reliability and easy maintenance. Navigating automatically and operating without drivers, they are used to improve the performance of manufacturing and warehousing as part of the customer’s production and intra logistics. Rocla offers a broad range of modular AGV solutions that are manufactured in serial production and tailored to the needs of specific customer applications. “Analyzing and understanding customer processes and developing them further is what sets us apart from the competition,” says Mr. Summa.

For customers, this means exceptionally short delivery times, easy implementation and low total cost of ownership. “Investments in AGVs pay for themselves very quickly,” explains Mr. Summa. “In a three-shift operation, for example, this can take less than a year.” Besides achieving significant cost savings and boosting performance and efficiency, Rocla AGVs offer two further crucial benefits, as Mr. Summa describes: “Instead of handling monotonous, routine operations, personnel can devote their time to more demanding and pleasant tasks. Using automation also improves safety at work.” Of course, Rocla also provides its customers with ongoing, comprehensive services, including maintenance, emergency repairs and upgrades, to secure lasting performance and efficiency gains.

Rocla has more than 70 years of experience in designing and manufacturing innovative materials handling systems. The company was founded in 1942. Since then, it has developed from a small, family-run business focused on lifting and transfer moving equipment into a world-class provider of complete, intelligent materials handling solutions that boost customer performance in a wide range of industries and application sectors. Important milestones in the company’s history include the introduction of the first electrically powered truck in 1967, the first delivery of an automated guided vehicle system in 1983 and the start of an Original Design Manufacturing (ODM) partnership for Mitsubishi and Caterpillar branded warehouse trucks in Europe. This cooperation was extended in 2003 when Rocla became an ODM partner for Mitsubishi and Caterpillar branded reach trucks in the USA. In 2008, Rocla was acquired by Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift Europe (MCFE). Since 2013 the company has been part of Mitsubishi Nichiyu Forklift Co., LTD.

The first Rocla AGV was designed and manufactured for Kone Corporation in Finland more than 30 years ago. After their successful launch, Rocla AGVs helped build Talbotcars in a car factory in Finland. In the 1980s, Rocla started developing the Swedish market, and by the 1990s, the company’s automated materials handling solutions had expanded to many other European countries, too.

The first AGVs supplied by Rocla used wire navigation. “Today, most vehicles use laser navigation, which is easier to install and update with no need to cut the floor,” states Mr. Summa. The product range is also extremely wide nowadays, with the smallest AGVs measuring less than 30 cm in height and the largest ones more than 12 m long. “The smallest vehicles were designed for mushroom plantations in the Netherlands, while the largest one was custom engineered for particle accelerators in the CERN nuclear research laboratory in Switzerland,” explains Mr. Summa.

In 2007, Rocla introduced the world’s first serially produced, fully modular AGV, AWT, which uses standard tractor units with modular load handling, mast and support structure options tailored to indi- vidual customer needs. In 2010, the company presented ATX, an AGV specially designed for automated picking and pallet handling. “With ATX, customers cars to automate just a part of their processes, also in smaller application environments,” Mr. Summa describes the main benefit of the new equipment line. MCFE-Rocla employs more than 500 materials handling professionals and generates annual revenues of 120 million EUR. The company has customers worldwide and serves two main customer markets: warehousing operations and intra-logistics in a wide array of manufacturing environments. “We ship approximately 95% of our products abroad,” states Mr. Summa. “The single most important export market is China.” For worldwide sales, Rocla uses the well-established distribution channels of its parent company MCFE in the Netherlands and Mitsubishi Nichiyu Forklift Co., LTD.

Rocla operates in a very promising market with strong potential for continued growth. “Compared to the use of conventional forklift trucks, the AGV market is still in its infancy,” says Mr. Summa. “But it will continue to expand, thanks to the many benefits of automated materials handling solutions. Moreover, it is getting increasingly difficult in many sectors to find qualified forklift drivers.” To meet the expected growth in worldwide AGV demand, Rocla is continuing to optimize existing materials handling solutions and develop new product innovations – always with the goal to help its customers boost their operational performance even more than today.

Akseli Summa

Executive Vice President Akseli Summa