Revolutionizing Material Handling: The Guide to Automated Guided Vehicles
If you manage a distribution center or warehouse, there are many different types of equipment and vehicles that you can purchase to improve efficiency and productivity. One vehicle that offers numerous advantages is an automated guided vehicle (AGV), which is a type of material handling system that’s capable of traveling through your warehouse without a driver or onboard operator.
Whether you want to move pallets from one location to another or are looking to handle raw materials without placing any personnel at risk, it’s highly recommended that you obtain automated guided vehicles for your facility. The following explores the many types of automated guided vehicles and the benefits they offer.
What are Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)?
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are portable robots that are capable of following wires or lines on a warehouse floor through the use of vision cameras, lasers, magnets, or radio waves for navigation. These vehicles are commonly used in applications that involve transporting heavy materials through a warehouse or factory. The popularity of these vehicles increased rapidly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
AGVs have the ability to tow large objects behind them via trailers. These trailers can be autonomously attached for simple transportation. Along with moving finished products or raw materials, an AGV can also be used to store certain items on a bed. Your personnel can place these items on motorized rollers to create a conveyor system. The items can then be pushed off by placing the vehicle in reverse.
Over the years, AGVs have been used in almost every industry, the primary of which include pulp, newspaper, metals, and paper manufacturing. In medical settings, these vehicles are regularly employed to transport medicine, food, linen, and other materials.
History of AGVs
AGVs were initially introduced to the market during the 1950s. Created by Barrett Electronics, these vehicles first consisted of tow trucks that were designed to follow a wire that was positioned on the floor. Eventually, AGVs moved in facilities with the use of invisible UV markers, which meant that they no longer needed to be towed by chains. While there have been many different iterations and applications for AGVs in the years since, the first of these systems was placed in Willis Tower to deliver mail to employees in its offices.
In the years since, the technology behind AGVs has become much more advanced. Modern AGVs are mostly laser guided vehicles (LGVs). During the automated process, an LGV will communicate with any other robots used in the facility to make sure that products are efficiently transported throughout the warehouse. Whether items are being stored for eventual use or distributed to shipping areas, AGVs accommodate a wide range of applications.
Types of AGVs
Even though all types of AGVs perform similar functions, they come with slightly different feature-sets. The main types of AGVs that you can place in your warehouse include:
- Automated guided carts
- Forklift AGVs
- Towing AGVs
- Unit load carriers
- Heavy burden carriers
While the majority of AGVs are similar to human-operated vehicles, they are meant to move around a distribution center or warehouse without requiring human intervention. Automated guided carts are the most basic forms of AGVs. The navigation system is comprised of everything from magnetic tape to sensor-based systems that are designed to use artificial intelligence. It’s possible to use automated guided carts to transport loaded pallets and small parts.
Forklift AGVs are meant to perform the exact same functions that traditional forklifts do, which means that they can be used in your facility to transport pallets. As for towing AGVs, they are capable of pulling at least one load-carrying vehicle. These vehicles move on wheels. Because of the towing capabilities, these AGVs typically transport heavy loads over lengthy distances. It’s also common for them to have numerous pick-up and drop-off areas along a defined route.
Unit load carriers are designed to carry smaller loads, which include single pallets or individual objects. As for heavy burden carriers, they are meant specifically to carry extremely heavy loads that other AGVs can’t transport. The main applications that this type of vehicle accommodates include coil and plate, casting, and large assembly transport. A small selection of these vehicles come with self-loading capabilities.
As touched upon previously, there are numerous types of navigation systems that an AGV can be equipped with, which include:
- Magnetic tape
- Inertial guidance
Wired guidance involves cutting a slot in the warehouse floor to place a wire at one inch beneath the surface. The slot will be cut across the path that the vehicle is set to follow. Once installed, the wire transmits a strong radio signal. An AGV is outfitted with a sensor that’s positioned near the ground. This sensor picks up the radio signal that the wire is transmitting and knows where to move.
Magnetic tape is also used to keep an AGV moving in the right line. The primary advantage of using tape instead of wires is that you can quickly remove the tape and put it in another position to change the vehicle’s course.
Laser navigation occurs by placing reflective tape on polls, fixed machines, or walls. The vehicle will use a laser receiver and transmitter that’s placed on a spinning turret. This sensor receives and transmits laser signals. Keep in mind that the layout of the reflector tape is stored in the vehicle’s memory, which allows for the navigation system to determine where the AGV is currently positioned. The system will then adjust steering as needed.
Inertial navigation uses a computer control system to assign specific tasks to AGVs and control their routes. Numerous transponders are installed in the floor, which the AGV will use to make sure the vehicle remains on course. Even the smallest alterations in the vehicle’s direction are detected by a gyroscope, which allows for quick corrections to be made. You can install this navigation system in any warehouse or industrial setting.
As for vision guidance, this navigation system is able to be installed without needing to make changes to your facility’s infrastructure. With this system, you’ll use cameras to take recordings of features along the main route that the AGV will take. The vehicle will then replay this route based on the recorded features. A 3D map is built with 360-degree images, which ensures that the vehicle can move along a specified route without taking landmarks or special features into account.
Benefits of AGVs
There are numerous benefits associated with AGVs, the primary of which include:
- Better efficiency
- More Reliability
- Increased Safety
- Improved accuracy
- Lower labor costs
- Constant operation
These features work together to increase your facility’s efficiency and productivity. Since AGVs run autonomously, they can reliably perform repetitive tasks without any downtime, which ensures that the physical labor associated with transporting materials is eliminated. They’ll also help guide personnel through their tasks in order to reduce human error.
Applications of AGVs
An AGV has the features and functionality needed to perform a wide range of applications in distribution, manufacturing, and warehousing industries. These applications include:
- Work-in-process movement
- Finished product handling
- Pallet handling
- Raw materials handling
- Trailer loading
- Roll handling
- Container handling
You can use these vehicles to transport rolls, carts, containers, racks, and pallets. If you need to repetitively move materials over a lengthy distance, you can do so with AGVs. These vehicles also help with on-time delivery.
Limitations of AGVs
Despite the many advantages of using automated guided vehicles for material handling purposes, there are a few issues that you should take into account before placing them in your warehouse. For one, these vehicles have high initial costs that can range from $40,000-$200,000 depending on the type of vehicle you purchase. While an AGV will improve your facility’s productivity and efficiency, it will take some time before you cover the upfront costs.
These vehicles also have limited use in a more controlled environment. If your facility has very specific parameters that must be adhered to, adding one or more AGVs to the mix could create problems with meeting these parameters.
Future of AGVs
AGVs have a promising future that should expand significantly as advancements are made with 5G networks, artificial intelligence, and sensors. For one, artificial intelligence could allow an AGV to correct and learn from any mistakes that are made during transport. The use of 5G networks may allow for better connectivity and communication with the devices that are used to guide the vehicles to their intended destinations.
Challenges of Implementing AGVs
There are a few challenges of using AGVs that every warehouse manager or owner should be aware of. For one, careful planning is necessary to ensure that the vehicle is capable of navigating to specific locations in the warehouse. The facility’s layout must also accommodate the navigation system.
Even though these vehicles can be operated without drivers, employees should be trained on how to perform their daily tasks while the AGV is moving around the facility. These vehicles can be heavy and dangerous, which is why certain safety measures should be implemented in your facility. These measures include:
- Give AGVs the right of way
- Don’t walk in front of this vehicle while it’s on a specific route
- Keep all travel routes clear
Integration with Other Technologies
AGVs can be integrated with several other technologies to enhance warehouse efficiency. If your warehouse is equipped with a Warehouse Management System (WMS), you’ll gain better visibility on where materials in your facility are located, how many materials are available, and the quantity of materials in specific locations.
You can also integrate AGVs with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, which streamlines the process of running your business and managing day-to-day activities. The modern integration of Internet of Things (IoT) ensures that data transmission is easier and quicker. The AGV will send information to a nearby server computer as it’s moving around the warehouse.
An AGV is an important technological innovation that offers numerous benefits to businesses in various industries. These benefits include everything from reducing the number of human errors that occur to effectively completing repetitive tasks. As technology continues to advance, AGVs are expected to become even more advanced and commonplace. Obtaining an AGV for your warehouse should help you improve your material handling capabilities.