Foxtrot Industriel has developed a small remote-controlled electric robot that can slip under a load of up to 20 tons and move it, maintaining a safe distance from its operators. And without damaging the floor, moreover.
In 2018, a team of 18 mechanical and electrical engineering students from the University of Sherbrooke began their graduation project, which consisted of developing a small remote-controlled electric robot capable of moving loads weighing several tons. The project had not yet been concluded and two of them, Charles-Éric Raymond and Benoît Serrano-Parent, already intended to found a company to one day market it. The students completed their studies and their project in December 2020. In the spring of 2021, the development of the prototype for series production was completed. Founded in January 2021, the company has kept the students’ F-team nickname: Foxtrot, according to the phonetic alphabet.
It was based on an industry need. A Sherbrooke company told us that it had problems moving heavy loads in a context where space was limited and there was no room for large traditional tools.
Charles-Éric Raymond, President and Co-Founder, Foxtrot Industriel
A powerful cake
The device comes in the form of a flat cart, just 12.7 cm (5 in.) thick.
Remotely controlled, the plate slides under the load, which has been temporarily lifted off the ground using standard hydraulic jacks. Two independent skids balance the load by forming a tripod.
The innovation lies in particular in the small size of the device. “Our system is the most compact and light in the world for this type of product,” says Charles-Éric Raymond.
The Solo 10 model, which can carry up to 10 tons, measures 36 cm by 54 cm. Weighing 45 kg and equipped with two handles, it can be carried by two people “like a big cooler”.
“It was quite a design challenge to integrate all the mechanical and electrical elements in such a small space, while having the necessary power to move such heavy loads”, adds the president.
The difficulty has been circumvented with a chassis machined from a solid aluminum block, which provides the necessary rigidity and lightness.
Like a tank and a turtle
The cart has four wheels – solid rollers arranged in pairs on either side of the frame. They are covered with a thick polyurethane tread, which “allows not to damage the floors and even to go in places of high cleanliness, like clean rooms”.
The load is placed on a rotating disc under which the carriage can pivot. Turns are done “like a tank”, putting one set of wheels in forward and the other in reverse.
Directed by an industrial remote control and driven by electric motors powered by rechargeable lithium batteries, the device moves at the cautious speed of 0.5 km/h. “It’s like a big turtle. »
The parts are manufactured in Quebec by subcontracting and assembled at the Sherbrooke company.
The Solo 10, with a capacity of 10 tonnes, is of more interest to companies that know the weight of their load, or even manufacturers who will rent it for occasional use.
Companies that want to acquire it for varied loads will generally opt for the SOLO 20, which can move up to 20 tons.
The security provided by remote control is an important asset.
“We are often contacted by companies that have had a serious accident, or that have come very close to having one,” says Audrey-Ann Morin, brand manager at Foxtrot.
“Although the company is very young, we already feel a lot of demand on the market, observes Audrey-Ann Morin. We have already made several sales. »
They were first made in Quebec, but the company recently obtained a first order in Ontario and another in Labrador.
“Then, the goal is to export, as much elsewhere in Canada as in the United States, and possibly all over the world,” says Charles-Éric Raymond.
Foxtrot hopes to sell a dozen robots in 2022 and aims for 24 orders in 2023.
“We are working on projects that we cannot yet reveal, but which are already patent pending, to make load handling even more efficient,” he adds.