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Specialist article
20.03.2023  |  3316x
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Digitalizing the supply chain with 3D LiDAR

3D LiDAR provides real-time bulk material inventory information, contributing to improved deliverability, cost savings, and process automation.
More and more industries are using 3D LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor technology to measure the volume of bulk materials. Here’s how it works: Laser pulses are used to create a three-dimensional image, a so-called point cloud, of the surface of the stored bulk materials, from which software can calculate the current volume of the inventory at any time and register additions or withdrawals in real-time. Employees thus have precise inventory information at their disposal at all times. Therefore, they can inform customers about currently available quantities and always send trucks to warehouses with sufficient stock, thus avoiding unnecessary journeys.

Previous measurement methods were inaccurate

Until now, companies have mostly estimated their bulk material volume by eye, weighed incoming and outgoing material on conveyor wheels or weight bridges, or taken only point measurements with laser scanners or drones. All these methods involve considerable effort for data collection and retrieval and personnel costs and are also prone to error.

Many industries benefit from 3D LiDAR

3D LiDAR-based methods, on the other hand, offer accurate data collection and analytics at all times and the ability to have up-to-date, on-demand information at hand in digital form. Many industries use 3D LiDAR already:
  • The construction industry benefits from continuously recording the volume of asphalt, concrete and raw materials.
  • The waste industry uses 3D LiDAR for efficient waste and recycling management of light, heavy, or wood waste.
  • Mining industries profit from volumetric monitoring of mined and excavated materials such as minerals and ores.
  • Agricultural companies improve their efficiency by monitoring the inventory of materials such as fertilizer, feed, grain, and wood chips with 3D LiDAR.

How 3D LiDAR works

3D LiDAR sensors emit hundreds of thousands of laser pulses per second over a wide field of view. When the laser light hits an object, it is reflected by it and detected again. Its distance is measured from the time the laser light needs to return to the sensor (time-of-flight principle). The high number of distance points creates a fine-grained virtual network of, for example, a pile of gravel from which software calculates the volume very precisely. The digital data can feed automatically into the company’s IT systems, such as the ERP. Based on this real-time volume data, companies can improve many processes:
  • Inventory accounting can perform its tasks correctly, knowing the exact bulk quantity.
  • Accurate reporting reduces legal and underwriting risks.
  • It reduces the cost and effort to report stock quantities.
  • They avoid production interruptions due to missing deliveries of input materials and the associated loss of income.
  • Logistics planning becomes more precise and efficient through the more reliable planning of trading in input materials, the optimally coordinated distribution of materials to several locations, and automating processes such as invoicing.

Digitalize the supply chain with 3D data

For the digitalization and automation of supply chain processes, it is an essential prerequisite that, as far as possible, all status and process data relevant to logistics are available in digital form. For the first time, 3D LiDAR solutions are now making such data available for bulk materials at any time in an up-to-date and automated form in company software such as ERP. Employees across all locations have an accurate and reliable overview of material stocks at their fingertips at all times for analyzing, planning, executing, controlling, and implementing their processes. Thus, companies can make their inventory management more efficient and further digitalize and automate their supply chain.

Examples of the application of LiDAR

Example: managing waste flows in line with demand

EEW Energy from Waste GmbH (EEW) has implemented a volume measurement solution based on Blickfeld LiDAR and can now control waste flows according to demand. EEW stores waste in a bunker that can hold up to 10,000 m³ of material. Blickfeld LiDAR sensors have replaced previous measurements, such as monitoring inventory via scales and the height position of the waste grabber, and continuously recording the volume of stored waste. Only three Blickfeld Cube 1 LiDAR sensors were needed to have an overview of the large bunker in its entirety. EEW relates the volume data to the mass of the material, which gives a good approximation of the energy content of the waste. All data is made available in a specially developed mobile app, which EEW uses to control the waste flows according to demand and to optimize plant operation economically.

Example: planning logistics across sites in mining

Hudbay Minerals, a Canadian multi-site mining company, has traditionally relied on employee estimates or manual methods to measure raw material inventories in their warehouses. Both proved unreliable, and the inventory information needed to be more accurate and up-to-date. They wanted a new solution to minimize inventory levels and make processes more efficient, so they chose LiDAR solutions from Blickfeld.

Using Blickfeld´s LiDAR sensors and Percept software, Hudbay Minerals now takes very accurate volume measurements in real-time with little effort. They plan to extend the system to more warehouses, test the solution outdoors and check whether they can profitably use the technology in other departments.

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