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Guided Vehicles for warehousing and manufacturing

Automation has introduced many types of guided vehicles that has broadened the range of applications for this emerging logistics solution.

Benefits of Automating Material Movement

The most common solution for increasing workflow is to add staff, which in today's workforce environment has proven to be expensive and with elusive benefits. Once programmed, an AGV will have mastered its function and is ready to start paying for itself - it saves training costs, hiring expenses, retraining expenses, safety protocol adherence, costs associated with human error and can work the hours necessary to complete tasks. AGV's consistently do what they are programmed to do.

Tasks that couldn't be done before, are completed with ease with the help of self-guided vehicles, making them increasingly popular in manufacturing and warehousing industries.

AGVs are commonly used by builders to tow components weighing several tons. Some are fitted with robotic limbs to help perform functions that require more dexterity than strength, such as tooling change out. Automation reduces the risks associated with human involvement, making these self-governing machines ideal for day-to-day operation. Food and beverage companies, logistics facilities, agriculture, equipment manufacturers, and even the builders of these automated machines utilize them.

Common Applications of AGVs

  1. Towing. Used to pull loads that weigh several tons across a warehouse floor. This greatly reduces the hazards associated with moving heavy equipment and finished products by manpower. Typically, these machines are capable of handling anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 pounds from point A to point B. The distance that these machines can carry these loads depends on the tracking abilities of the machine.

  2. Pallet movement and placement. Fitted with a forked lifting mechanism that elevates to retrieve or place materials as well as move and stack pallets. These machines are often utilized for bringing materials in and placing them, or retrieving them for shipment and can augment or replace forklift operators.

  3. Heavy Loads. Due to its ability to carry upwards of 250,000 pounds, these units are commonly used in such industries as metal and paper where they are employed to carry coils, ingots, dies, and other hard to move materials.

  4. Unit Load self-contained loading platforms. These machines are normally used to transport totes, pallets, and racks at a rate of about two at a time and are are commonly programmed for load transferring and hauling applications that are not physically possible for a human.

  5. Commercial Applications. Small AGVs that are more for light duty work of typically 500 pounds or less. Applications such as office mail carts in offices, small parts movement are common.

The Evolution of Driverless Vehicles

Originally, AGV's were designed to operate via a "Guide-by-wire" design. Today's AGVs are laser guided or follow magnetic tape or bright colored paint on the ground. Machines guided by magnetic tape, paint, or wires have a fixed route that they travel in the warehouse or factory. They are programmed with sensors that pick up the frequencies of the tape or wiring and guide the AGV accordingly. Laser navigation technology allows for greater range of operation and can follow a programmed route while using the laser guidance to detect obstructions and avoid collisions in the warehouse or manufacturing facility.

Many automation enabled vehicles have robotic arms attached to them as well. These robotic arms allow the machine to do more than transport materials. They enable it to handle more intricate tasks like assembly and part changes on other machines. These machines are ideal for assembly lines and order pulling in a distribution centre or warehouse. AGVs have found a home in the e-commerce industry as well. There are automatic guided machines that can receive and pull orders for shipment.

Common AGV Components

  • Traction motors to provide movement.

  • Batteries to power the motor. There are many batteries with different capacities, but lithium ion phosphate batteries are popular

  • Programmable computer.

  • Payload interface. This is usually either a fork, a loading deck, a conveyor, or a similar component tasked with handling whatever is to be acted upon.

  • Communication technology. Unmanned machines have to communicate with central command to carry out orders and to communicate with other AGVs. These machines are on a common network; this allows them to recognise and aid or avoid each other.

  • Obstruction Detection. There are a lot of hazards to navigate in a factory, warehouse, or distribution centre and AGVs are typically equipped with lasers to detect and avoid obstructions and may also include navigation, traffic, and job control systems.

Choosing to invest in AGV's for your facility must begin with a complete analysis of your workflow to understand the role automation can play and the associated cost-benefit study. Material handling technologies are evolving rapidly and new capabilities are being introduced into the marketplace at a remarkable pace. Adopting a creative approach to your workflow challenges can pay dividendes.

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