Research and development

Strategic focus of research and development

Under the KION 2027 strategy, research and development is set up so as to support the KION Group’s position as a leading global supplier of integrated, automated supply chain solutions and mobile automation solutions over the long term. R&D activities remain focused on energy, digitalization, and automation.

R&D activities essentially take place on a cross-brand and cross-region basis, which makes it easier for research findings and technological know-how to be shared across the Group. Building on this, local product development teams working for the individual brand companies and regions develop customer-specific solutions. In addition to continuous innovation geared to the needs of customers, another objective of the R&D activities is to reduce the complexity and diversity of the product range and to shorten development times for new products.

Key R&D figures

The KION Group increased its spending on R&D to €273.0 million in 2021 (2020: €235.3 million). This equates to 2.7 percent of revenue (2020: 2.8 percent). R&D costs totaling €174.7 million were expensed (2020: €156.8 million). There were also amortization charges on capitalized development costs of €99.9 million (2020: €97.1 million), which are reported under cost of sales (see note [17] in the notes to the consolidated financial statements).

Research and development (R&D)

in € million




Research and development costs (P&L)




Capitalized development costs




Total R&D spending




R&D spending as percentage of revenue



The number of full-time equivalents in R&D teams had risen by 9.0 percent to 1,854 employees as at the end of 2021 (December 31, 2020: 1,701). The KION Group pursues a dedicated patent strategy to protect against imitations of its technology. As at the end of 2021, the companies of the KION Group together held a total of 2,804 patent applications and issued patents (December 31, 2020: 2,836). They applied for 81 new patents in 2021, compared with 111 in 2020.

Focus of R&D in 2021

The fundamental strategic direction of research and development, which is defined in the KION 2027 strategy, did not change in the year under review and continued to center on sustainable solutions in the growth areas of automation, digitalization, and energy-efficient drive solutions.


The development and refinement of energy-efficient drive solutions, from internal combustion engines to various electric drive systems and fuel cells, continued to be a focus of research and development. Additions to the technology and product range included developments in the area of lithium-ion batteries. To this end, further improvements were made to the performance and robustness of electric forklift trucks, including those in higher load ranges. For example, the new Linde X20–X35 electric forklift truck models with a load capacity of 2.0 to 3.5 tonnes match the performance and robustness of IC trucks for the first time but also offer the environmental and efficiency advantages of battery-powered trucks.

In October 2021, the KION Group acquired a minority stake in software specialist ifesca GmbH, based in Ilmenau, Germany, which is enabling it to participate in the development of AI-based solutions for energy management from the customer perspective. The focus is on increasing the efficiency of energy grids by means of peak power management, thereby avoiding expensive spikes in electricity consumption when electric forklift trucks are charging. Algorithms are used to reliably predict the availability and consumption of electricity and to schedule the optimum charging times.


When it came to the digitalization of customer solutions, the focus was on development projects relating to digital solutions for warehouse automation. Dematic teamed up with STILL and Linde Material Handling to launch Conveyor ConfiKIT, an online tool for configuring conveyor technology systems that streamlines the processes involved in preparing quotations for such systems. The app enables the systems to be individually configured from a kit of standardized modules while at the customer’s site. Dematic will therefore be able to prepare quotations up to four weeks sooner in the future.

VDA 5050 is a new digital interface that enables automated guided vehicle systems and control software supplied by different manufacturers to communicate with each other. The KION Group and its STILL brand company contributed their expertise to this joint project of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) and the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA). In 2021, the interface passed the first live test, thereby reaching the first milestone on the journey to market maturity.

Linde Warehouse Navigator, a new warehouse management system, was developed by Linde Material Handling in 2021 with the aim of making it easier for customers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, to start digitalizing and automating various intralogistics functions. The modular solution, comprising a warehouse management, order picking, and truck guidance system, visualizes the warehouse – including the goods held in it – in 3D and shows drivers the quickest route to their destination. The inventory management function offers full transparency about capacity utilization in the warehouse while a pick function supports order picking. The software can also be integrated with ERP systems and automated conveyor technology.

In addition, digital tools were used to equip trucks and tugger trains with new safety features. This included Linde Material Handling’s Rack Protection Sensor (RPS), an intelligent light sensor tool that helps to prevent damage caused by collisions with racks in the warehouse. Linde Material Handling also developed Linde Logistics Train Controller, a cloud-based guidance system for the horizontal transportation of goods on tugger trains. It responds to order changes in real time and adapts the optimum route.


The main activity in the field of automation is the ongoing development of customized and scalable solutions, right up to fully automated large-scale warehouses.

The Industrial Indoor Localization (IIL) research project, which was completed in February 2021, facilitates the collection and standardization of the infrastructure and process data that is needed for warehouse automation. STILL brought its knowledge of truck automation and robotics to the project.

STILL also developed OPX iGo neo, an autonomous horizontal order picker that provides drivers with highly efficient support during manual picking processes. The features of this truck were expanded to include 3D recognition of objects and driver assistance functions that kick in even when the truck is in manual mode.

In 2021, Dematic continued to enhance its end-to-end mobile automation solutions and implement them for its customers, which included an international retail chain. The system is controlled by software and robotics, from goods receipt through to distribution, and links around 2,200 stores in a largely autonomous application environment.

The strategic partnership with Quicktron, which was agreed upon in 2020 and underpinned by the acquisition of a minority stake, has significantly expanded the portfolio of autonomous mobile robots of Dematic, Linde, and STILL. The software interfaces are standardized, ensuring seamless interaction with the warehouse management and control systems. The registration process for the next model, M100, began in December 2021.


Innovation activities are focused on the development of cross-segment technologies for tomorrow’s material handling market. In September, the KION Group joined forces with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) to establish a joint Enterprise Lab in which the autonomous vehicle swarm known as LoadRunner is being developed to market-readiness. The KION Group also obtained a license to use IML’s LoadRunner technology internationally. LoadRunner represents a new generation of autonomous guided vehicles that use AI-based swarm technology to achieve higher speeds and greater sorting capacity. Installation, start-up, and ongoing adjustments are easier than with traditional sorting systems.

In August 2021, the KION Group agreed to collaborate with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the STARS Lab at the University of Toronto on the ARIBIC research project (Artificial Intelligence-Based Indoor Cartography). The aim of the project is to use the data collected from truck sensors to produce a high-resolution 3D map of the warehouse – known as a digital twin – so that this can be used in real time to simulate routes and optimize processes. The funding of the project was approved by the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).

Projects as part of R&D partnerships

Two collaborative projects were completed in 2021. As part of Deep-PTL, a project supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, new AI-based methods of processing image data and camera data were developed and demonstrated in various application scenarios. In the IIL2 collaborative project, an open-source standard for environment modeling was created that was then showcased in an intralogistics setting. The aforementioned cooperation on the LoadRunner research concept with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics was also completed in the reporting year.

Three other projects were taking place at various KION Group sites as at the end of 2021. The KAnIS project, which is supported by the Federal State of Bavaria, is studying the automation of counterbalance trucks in a wide range of application scenarios. AWARD, a European research project, is examining the challenges of deploying autonomous transportation systems outdoors during bad weather. The 5Guarantee collaborative project is researching how 5G can be embedded in the Industrial Internet of Things. KION’s role will be to investigate how to control and locate large-scale logistics fleets in real time using 5G technologies.

In addition, three new collaborative projects got under way in 2021. The GRASS project is researching new approaches for the autonomous picking of orders by robots in warehouses. As part of KI.FABRIK, a project receiving public-sector support, concepts for a futuristic AI-controlled factory are being developed. Finally, KION is an industrial partner in a European research project named IMOCO4.E.