OPC Technology Enables Automatic Guided Vehicles

April 24, 2007
Softing, in partnership with Swisslog, developed an OPC solution for an automatic guided transport system used in a new hospital in Trondheim, Norway, that was deemed “crucial to the on-schedule realization and commissioning of the system.”
The new St. Olav's Hospital complex in Trondheim, Norway, is the regional hospital for Mid-Norway and provides healthcare for about 630,000 people. The first clinical centers are going into operation now, and construction should be fully completed by 2015. During the initial design phase of the healthcare complex, the decision was made to support the hospital staff with an automatic guided transport system. Although some concessions for an automatic guided transport system were made during the construction of the building complex, the automatic guided vehicles were expected to use the hospital's standard elevators and corridors without the need for a dedicated infrastructure. The corridors are equipped with doors that automatically close in the event of a fire. This implies that any automatic guided vehicle (AGV) must have continual access to the current status of the doors and of the elevators to react appropriately. For example, in the event of a fire alarm, an AGV must leave an elevator or move away from a closing door. Swisslog, a leading provider for healthcare logistics and material transport solutions, was hired by St. Olav's Hospital to implement the automatic guided transport system. Swisslog’s automated hospital material transport systems are designed to move a wide range of supplies, medications and specimens throughout a hospital on-demand or at scheduled intervals. Swisslog’s AGV is ideal for distribution of bulk or batched materials weighing up to 500 kg (1,100 lbs). Containers designed to hold specific contents are carried on top of the vehicles, which travel at walking speed throughout the corridors and on the elevators of a facility. The vehicles navigate by scanning their surroundings with a laser and comparing them to an electronic map stored in the vehicle. Swisslog developed this free-navigation method known as contour scanning. This advanced technology requires no wall targets, embedded wires, or other costly building modifications, which makes it extremely flexible.The building-automation team of the hospital decided on OPC as the standard for exchanging data between the individual building systems within the hospital. This decision required Swisslog to enhance its AGV system with OPC technology to ensure seamless data exchange with the building automation system. Swisslog turned to Softing, a leading provider of industry-hardened OPC components based near Munich, Germany, to implement a robust OPC Client and Server interface. The tight schedule of the project required close cooperation between Swisslog, Softing, and the individual interface partners in St. Olav’s Hospital. An engineering team at Softing developed an OPC Data Access (DA) Client and Server using its leading OPC Toolbox, a suite of OPC development tools for quick and easy implementation of OPC-compliant products. Softing’s OPC Toolbox enables software engineers to concentrate on their project goal rather than on learning the intricacies of DCOM, SOAP, or other technologies.The OPC Client that Softing developed is used for data exchange with the automation components that help operate the elevators and doors. For example, an AGV can call an elevator via this interface and let it know to which floor it has to go. The OPC Server, on the other hand, is interfacing with the building control system of the hospital. Any problem affecting the AGV system is reported to the operator through this interface. The implementation of the OPC Client and Server started in the fourth quarter of 2004. The development has since been completed, and the enhanced automatic guided transport system in St. Olav's Hospital has been commissioned successfully. “At the end of any major project like the one for St. Olav's Hospital, it is always a good feeling to see all individual building systems work together. The OPC interface for standardized data exchange certainly contributed to the successful completion of the project,” said Dr. Johannes Fottner of Swisslog Telelift. “Our excellent cooperation with Softing as the OPC technology provider was crucial to the on-schedule realization and commissioning of the system.”Softing’s OPC technology has provided Swisslog with an edge over its competitors. This new technology enables Swisslog to offer a state-of-the-art data exchange solution that fits into today’s modern infrastructure architectures.For more information on how Softing can assist you, please visit www.softing.us.