Understand Trends in Contact and Wireless Charging Systems

Guest blog by MHI member company Conductix-Wampfler

In 2023, the manufacturing industry experienced a digital resurgence with new automated technologies like machine learning tools, IoT devices, and robotic solutions – including AGV and AMRs. These solutions support data transfer needs and seamlessly integrate into established infrastructures. Manufacturing facilities and OEMs are increasingly adopting these vehicles and robots into their operations, so much so that the predicted mobile robot market revenue is expected to reach $18 billion by 2027. And with that, the remainder of 2024 can expect to see a rise in automated robot use.

Before these solutions can be deployed across facilities, OEMs need to consider a seamless course of action for implementation. To prioritize efficiency and maximize equipment use, developing a charging strategy is a commonplace solution. Charging systems, whether contact or wireless charging, are designed to enhance automation and solve your operational challenges. As more OEMs gravitate toward automated robotic technologies and contemplate charging strategies, staying informed on the latest charging trends is vital.

Below are five key charging system trends to help guide you.

Enhanced Device Compatibility

One standout charging system trend in 2024 is enhanced device compatibility. When integrating wireless or contact charging across your facility, it is important to ensure both systems have enhanced device compatibilities, meaning they can support AGVs and AMRs of any shape or size. This is pertinent in any warehouse or facility as these autonomous vehicles are not all designed the same, posing a challenge when sourcing the right charging solution. However, creating standard charging stations can cater to many robot vehicles while also optimizing the ampacity, or the maximum current, of the charging contact on the vehicle. This benefits OEMs by cutting down on unnecessary charging system spending and acting as a seamless solution for vehicles of any size.

Additionally, this trend can help OEMs determine which charging strategy and size are best for their current infrastructure. Wireless charging typically caters to AMRs that are functioning in uncontrolled environments. They have more freedom to roam and not follow a fixed route or path, thanks to wireless charging capabilities. Wireless systems only require a flat space on a vehicle or a small amount of space behind it to function. It is important to note that space is required for a power converter on the vehicle when using a wireless charger.

Contact charging systems fare well in more traditional facilities and connect with AGV vehicles requiring fixed paths and magnetic tapes or wires. These chargers only need a small surface mount with additional space on the vehicle rather than a deeper space utilization behind for operating. When assessing your facility, its space requirements, and its various workflows, choosing charging systems with device compatibility components will benefit your unique operations and enhance overall automation.

Faster Charging Speeds

Another prominent trend we’ll continue to see this year is deploying charging systems with faster charging speeds. Robots require time to charge so they can function properly and maintain efficiency. This block of charging time, however, pauses operations, contributing to facility downtime. This goes even further, lowering operational ROI by decreasing output capacity or requiring additional investment in vehicles, charging stations, or both to achieve necessary throughput.

To avoid costly delays, OEMs can consider implementing opportunity charging into their charging strategy. With this system in place, you can charge your automated robots for shorter, faster periods during the day, eliminating downtime. Moreover, opportunity charging stations can be housed anywhere in a facility, providing greater flexibility for employees and facility managers. Faster charging speeds and opportunity charging are key factors in maximizing your equipment and return, all while improving operational efficiency.

Improved Data Security and Safety

When discussing charging trends, it would be remiss not to include data security and safety. AMRs and AGVs rely on data capture to make informed decisions and relay information to the central control system. To transmit informative data, these mobile solutions need a reliable, high-speed connection. However, when it comes to data security, it is essential to form a secure line of communication between the charger and the vehicle.

Many vehicles rely solely on Wi-Fi, but this comes with function and security limitations. Wireless charging stations can instead use inductive communication systems, consisting of a short-range wireless layer that builds a magnetic field between the charging pad and the vehicle. This is isolated from the Wi-Fi network, ensuring the correct operators are receiving and exchanging data. Charging contacts can utilize CAN bus communication protocols through pilot contacts that require a direct connection to the vehicle hardware. Many of these solutions do not charge until the charging pad and vehicle are completely aligned. These communication solutions are an essential consideration for OEMs as they are not prone to radio frequency interferences that come with more traditional wireless communication protocols.

In terms of safety, these solutions prevent remote workers from accessing important data and from accidental exposure to voltage or wireless power transmission, ultimately protecting operators and data security.

Greater Customization

A valuable feature of any piece of equipment is customization. This is often a forgotten or delayed consideration for OEMs as vehicles have such limited space, and charging solutions are typically an afterthought. However, implementing customized and flexible solutions into your charging strategy can support various power connections and different travel requirements per vehicle. For example, OEMs can customize how their charging systems are mounted, either below, on the side, or integrated into the body of the vehicle. By catering the mount design to your mobile robot, you can ensure both wireless and contact charging systems fit within your facility and can be easily controlled by your operators.

Extended Coverage Ranges

A final trend you can expect to see this year is suppliers offering extended coverage ranges across their charging systems. Suppliers and vendors are moving away from developing limited, single-charging solutions and instead creating systems that can integrate into any infrastructure. Knowing where to start when choosing the right wireless or contact charging solution can feel overwhelming. Suppliers are now assessing and looking more closely at your current operations, asking how often you spend time charging, where charging is taking place, and what your charging pain points are. With more robust charging solutions, you can feel at ease working with trusted partners to find the right fit for your operations.

2024 and Beyond

Automated robot solutions are enhancing the way we maintain operational efficiency and increase output. Keeping charging at the forefront of your strategy can strengthen your robot vehicles and propel your business forward. Charging solutions are constantly changing and evolving, but staying up to date with the latest trends helps keep your finger on the pulse of modern manufacturing. In addition to providing interesting industry context, these trends can serve as jumping-off points for your product roadmap and charging system journey.

Author: Brian Cook, Senior Product Manager, Conductix-Wampfler