Research and development
Strategic focus of research and development
Under the newly refined 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 and sustainable supply chain solutions and mobile automation solutions. R&D activities are focused on the two strategic fields of action ‘automation and software’ and ‘sustainability’.
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 by 17.7 percent to €321.3 million in 2022 (2021: €273.0 million). This equates to 2.9 percent of revenue (2021: 2.7 percent). R&D costs totaling €203.3 million were expensed (2021: €174.7 million). There were also amortization charges on capitalized development costs of €112.6 million (2021: €99.9 million), which are reported under cost of sales (see note  in the notes to the consolidated financial statements).
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 7.9 percent to 2,000 employees as at the end of 2022 (December 31, 2021: 1,854). The KION Group pursues a dedicated patent strategy to protect against imitations of its technology. As at the end of 2022, the companies of the KION Group together held a total of 2,843 patent applications and issued patents (December 31, 2021: 2,804). They applied for 94 new patents in 2022, compared with 81 in 2021.
Focus of R&D in 2022
Automation and software
The KION Group is continuously refining brand-independent solutions built on the use of networked trucks and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and including shared software platforms and integrated services.
New AMRs designed for use in warehouses and factories were added to the portfolio of automation solutions last year. Linde Material Handling unveiled the Linde C-MATIC, for example, which is designed to transport materials horizontally and is highly maneuverable and rapid, even in tight spaces. The Linde C-MATIC HP improves operational processes by automatically detecting obstacles via a safety scanner and through its flexible load pick-up capabilities. Initial big-ticket orders underline the sales potential for the KION Group’s AMR solutions, which is also being fulfilled through a strategic partnership with Chinese AMR specialist Quicktron. Developed in conjunction with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML), the LoadRunner AGV, which uses AI-based swarm technology, was successfully trialed in 2022. The trial confirmed that the LoadRunner could achieve a high speed and exceptional sorting capacity. The KION Group obtained a license to use IML’s LoadRunner technology internationally.
The European research project IMOCO (Intelligent Motion Control), which started in February 2022, is aimed at enabling intelligent trucks to navigate autonomously in fast-moving intralogistics environments.
Dematic widened its service portfolio to include visual inspections of intralogistics facilities carried out with the help of drone technology. This has the potential to reduce the time and work involved in performing mandatory checks on automated warehouse systems.
And in the third quarter of 2022, Dematic entered into a strategic partnership with Dexterity in order to integrate the North American company’s software as a service platform for robotics intelligence into the KION Group’s system-based solutions and software. The platform, which relies on highly sophisticated algorithms, can be used to help upgrade standard industrial robot arms into full-task robots that can tackle complex intralogistics challenges.
Linde Material Handling also uses cloud-based control software in its AMRs that greatly simplifies initial set-up and later adaptations. The cloud-platform supports the VDA 5050 interface standard, which the KION Group and its brand company STILL co-developed in a project with the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) and the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA). VDA 5050 enables automated guided vehicle systems and control software supplied by different manufacturers to communicate with each other.
The KION Group is forging ahead with the development and refinement of energy-efficient drive solutions, from internal combustion engines to various electric drive systems and fuel cells. For example, it is working on solutions for the entire lithium-ion battery lifecycle, including charging management, reconditioning, and recycling. In April 2022, KION Battery Systems (KBS) launched a second production line for 24-volt batteries used to power mobile warehouse trucks.
At the same time, the KION Group’s brand companies broadened the use of lithium-ion batteries to include additional load ranges and applications. Linde Material Handling launched new extra heavy-duty trucks in the 10–18 tonne load range and began marketing the T14–T20 series of pallet trucks in the 1.4–2.0 tonne load range with a fully integrated lithium-ion battery. Electric tow tractors that can tow up to 35 tonnes and electric platform trucks that can move up to 3 tonnes of payload are now also available. STILL launched the X-cellence line onto the market. The flagship RXE series reduces energy use by up to 17 percent compared with its RX predecessors. STILL also unveiled the new and compact RXE 10-16C electric forklift truck, which can move loads of up to 1.6 tonnes. For the volume segment, Baoli brought out the EP 15-03 hand pallet truck with a lithium-ion battery drive.
Through a minority stake in software specialist ifesca GmbH, the KION Group also continued to develop AI-based energy management solutions. 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 predict the availability and consumption of electricity and to schedule the charging times.
Important progress was also made in non-electric development. STILL began work on a 24-volt fuel cell system for warehouse trucks that is due on the market in 2023. It will be the only original equipment manufacturer thus far to produce these systems itself. Linde Material Handling completed its HVO diesel trials and was able to approve this fuel made of fully renewable hydrotreated vegetable oil for the engines used in its diesel truck fleet. Customers switching to HVO will be able to lower their carbon emissions compared with conventional diesel. They will also reduce local emissions such as fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxide (NOX), hydrocarbons (HC), and carbon monoxide (CO), which will be beneficial to the working environment for employees. Other new safety features such as a visibility-optimized mast for reach trucks round off the sustainability-oriented developments in 2022.
Projects as part of R&D partnerships
Eight collaborative projects were taking place at various KION Group sites as at the end of 2022.
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. The 5Guarantee collaborative project is researching how 5G can be embedded in the Industrial Internet of Things. KION’s role is to investigate how to control and locate fleets of industrial trucks in real time using 5G technologies. Throughput and latency in data transmission was one of the focal points.
The GRASS project is researching new approaches for the autonomous picking of orders by robots in warehouses. Its activities are centered around algorithms for identifying goods in warehouse racking and on the use and control of robot arms and grabbers. As part of KI.FABRIK, a project receiving public-sector support, concepts for a futuristic AI-controlled factory are being developed by the Technical University of Munich and industrial partners, among them Linde Material Handling. Key to this project are mobile robotic solutions and the networking of internal logistics and production. KION is also an industry partner in the European research project IMOCO4.E, which aims to significantly expand the autonomous capabilities of vehicles and open up a broader field of applications in the human-machine production environment. The objective of the joint Canadian-German undertaking ARIBIC is to demonstrate a platform that uses continuous AI-driven data analysis to create a real-time digital twin of a warehouse.
One further new collaborative project, CampusOS, was started in 2022. Its mission is to establish an ecosystem for open 5G campus networks using non-captive wireless technology and interoperable components. In addition, Dematic launched the joint AIGV project with the University of Edinburgh in 2022 with the aim of making person/robots-to-goods applications much more efficient, flexible and customer-oriented for the warehouses of tomorrow. Funded by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering, the industrial fellowship partner will contribute its expertise in multi-agent reinforcement learning to the development of flexible planning and navigation algorithms based on artificial intelligence.