Alstef Group has replaced the system at the heart of the G1XL station, Air France Cargo’s international base.

The 12-hectare hub, located in the cargo area of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, handles and transports all types of cargo. Nearly 600 pallets leave the station each day and more than 450 arrive before being shipped all over Europe by truck.

Inaugurated in 1976, the G1XL station was automated in 1996 with BA Systèmes/ Alstef Group through the acquisition of 30 AGVs (automated guided vehicles). Developed specifically for Air France Cargo, these mobile robots transport freight pallets up to 7 tonnes.

After nearly 25 years of operation, Air France Cargo commissioned Alstef Group to replace the system. This involved a complete logistics analysis of the site, the retrofit of the 30 existing AGVs, the migration of the control system and the operational deployment of the new solution.

“Our cooperation has extended over time, and we have carried out this AGV renovation and software migration project together, in order to improve the fluidity of the AGVs and increase our operational performance,” said Sylvaine Marguet, engineering manager for Air France Cargo.

The logistical evolution within the hub and the flow increase required an in-depth global study, to ensure the sustainability of the AGV fleet and its adequacy with the new operating constraints.

The main challenge was to scale the installation in order to meet the expected logistics performance, with system availability a key element. Marguet explained: “The challenge of this installation is to operate 24 hours a day. We need to transport our pallets in the station 24 hours a day, every day, seven days a week, in order to pre-route the pallets to our planes. Reliability is really our main focus.”

Alstef Group used actual data from the facility to perform a complete flow and rate analysis. This study enabled the design of an optimal solution in terms of traffic, infrastructure and operational organisation, as well as a fleet capable of ensuring the simultaneous rates of the different flows of the hub. There are 30 AGVs linking the different areas of the site, including the freight station and its pallet preparation stations, the storage area with its 1,000 slots and the sequencing area before truck loading. The system also has an automatic battery changing area with two stacker cranes.

Upgrading the AGVs

The AGVs were retrofitted to remove all hardware and software obsolescence. This technological upgrade was particularly important in the area of tracking, since the original fleet dating from 1996 was wire-guided. Today, the AGVs use a hybrid 360° laser guidance system on the traffic lanes, combined with contour tracking in the storage aisles. Precision and flexibility of navigation have optimised pallet transport and stabilised the average mission time, Alstef said.

These modifications to the software and hardware architecture enable the robots to benefit from the functionalities of the new control system and provide the necessary scalability for operational changes in the years to come. The replacement of the supervision software also integrates the optimisation of mission and stock management rules as well as the dynamic management of conflicts, thus improving the fluidity of the AGVs’ circulation.

To minimise disruption, a progressive migration of the AGVs was carried out, followed by the complete replacement of the control system. After a successful start-up, Alstef Group teams continued to support Air France Cargo, with an expert remaining on site.

Image: Alstef Group