The evolution of things

The Magdeburg-based company benjamin GmbH wants to break up rigid patterns with "fluid logistics"

Lars Bergmann thinks quickly and in every direction. And logistics and production processes should be equally as flexible and dynamic in the future: at benjamin GmbH, he is working on a technical solution with which objects in warehouses can be organised and processes parallelised: "fluid logistics".

It sounds like science fiction: any number of transport systems moving freely over the ground. Everything happens with pinpoint accuracy, simultaneously, in all directions as well as individually and in real time, adapted to the respective requirement. At the airport, everyone is reunited with their suitcase immediately, at a large mail-order company, all orders are processed simultaneously. Waiting patiently somewhere in line could soon be seriously out of fashion.

"This isn’t pie-in-the-sky thinking," says company founder Lars Bergmann confidently. But isn’t it all a bit chaotic? "No, it’s more like an ant heap: on the contrary, it is highly efficient." The economist and business IT specialist smiles self-confidently. He spent years experimenting with coils and magnets in his basement. He read up on everything he didn’t know. And all because, as a student, he refused to settle for the rigid solutions of his professor. At that time a seminar would be about optimising production processes. Today, the citizen of Magdeburg has a quick-answer: fluid logistics. It has the potential to revolutionise automatic processes worldwide – from the logistics company to storage depots, to production facilities and department stores, through to completely new service offerings in everyday life.

The basic principle is similar to a coin which magically moves across a table top because of a magnet underneath. The company benjamin GmbH solves this with electromagnetic drive modules which are laid as tiles either in or on the floor. These generate magnetic fields whose size, speed and intensity are in turn controlled by a software package. A kind of central divine eye complements the “crowd intelligence” of the differing objects. It is in this context that Bergmann's team of 14 members of staff have spent years looking for the right material flow algorithms.

The system transports objects of any size precisely and without mutual contact, responding to a changed environment in real time. It is significantly faster, lower cost and more targeted. Large loads do not present any problem. Thanks to the parallelism of the processes, key factory areas such as storage facilities, conveying and production systems can merge together.

Scientists from ESA Darmstadt, FH Frankfurt and TU Braunschweig were also included in the development. A wide consortium of sponsors is providing the ambitious project with financial support. Founded in 2008, benjamin GmbH has meanwhile organised its invention to be patented worldwide. Together with leading industrial partners such as Fraport AG, the operator of Frankfurt airport, the company is currently working on preparing its system for the market. This remains somewhat shrouded in secrecy, however. The interest of the automotive, chemical and logistics industry has already been awakened, however. In the areas of intralogistics and production, the Magdeburg-based business are continuing to search for strategic cooperation partners.