As the dream of self-driving cars has taken shape, the application of Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) is making its way into warehouses in a real way.
AGVs are not only for companies with large budgets and huge operations. In fact, AGVs are more than just AGVs - AGVs are short for Automated Guided Vehicle, and for decades, AGVs have been designed to follow electromagnetic or optical devices, to travel along a defined guidance path, to have a very high safety protection system and to have different shifting functions.
AGV includes self-driving vehicles, self-driving robots, vision-guided vehicles, etc. As these vehicles become more flexible in non-fixed environments, these automated guided vehicles have rapidly expanded from manufacturing to the warehouse and distribution industries.
“A few years ago, we realized that there was a large potential market for AGVs in warehouses that would lead to a dramatic increase in AGVs, and now the trend is very clear," said by Jeff Burnstein, president of the A3 Association.
Heavy-duty AGVs can be used as alternatives to large transport systems, or they can simply remove trash, but because AGVs are volume rather than value-added products, they are likely to be prevalent throughout the supply chain.
Ed Mullen, vice president of sales for the Americas for Mobile Industrial Robotics, said AGVs that rely on magnetic guidance are only ideal options in large, spacious environments.
"But for a $50 million company with 50,000 square feet, they don't have enough room for track or magnetic strip-guided AGV equipment, and if a forklift runs in front of an AGV, it has to stop and wait," Mullen said. "With collaborative mobile robots, you can plan to go from the dock to the warehouse, and if there are people moving around, it will automatically move along a different aisle, and the adaptive capability is enhanced without slowing down production. Relatively speaking, this advantage increases flexibility".
Potential customers may treat collaborative mobile robots as temporary workers compared to traditional AGVs.
For many warehouses, the pressure of labor availability and rapid fulfillment forces managers to at least evaluate alternatives to automation.
Throughout the operation, AGVs collect all the data on exact time it took to execute tasks and the obstacles encountered along the way.
Many modern AGV systems provide information via tablet PCs and smartphones. Kaminsky even said that some on-board displays have been removed due to the widespread popularity of mobile devices.
Instead, the mobile app enables staff to direct or request vehicles, write new routes and access metrics about operations. It can also provide information about the condition of the vehicle itself, from temperature to battery status and motor current. Because in-house or dealer technicians cannot be expected to maintain the various sensors and vision systems on such equipment, AGV manufacturers make every effort to help their warehouse customers avoid becoming robotics experts.
"In general, the level of technology in warehouses is below that of manufacturing," said Mark Longacre, Marketing Manager for JBT Corp. "You don't have field engineers and senior experts in the average warehouse compared to a large automotive manufacturer. As a result, AGV systems need to be more reliable, user-friendly and easy to diagnose."
Most AGV providers use standard off-the-shelf components instead of proprietary systems, such as motors, encoders, contactors, circuit breakers, cameras, and lasers. Built on an intuitive interface that does not require extensive programming knowledge, the software also allows for remote monitoring and preventive maintenance, further reducing the burden on users.
Furthermore, some AGV providers have adopted a "robot-as-a-service" model that completely eliminates the need for the user to be the owner of the equipment. The robot can report a fault, take it out of rotation and trigger the delivery of a replacement unit without customer intervention.
Longacre said: "Currently, the AGVs are gradually increasing in complexity, and at some point we have one control to assign all tasks, such as a system administrator to monitor the AGV and forklift interaction. In the market, you can see some forklift-like dual purpose vehicles that can be manual or automatic. The industry really needs a two-vehicle system where both must operate in harmony like collaborative robots and only collaborate with other equipment. The forklift will know where the AGV is and vice versa, and the system can distribute and manage tasks throughout the fleet. That's the future, all devices can respond correctly to all tasks throughout the day and to changes in daily or seasonal peaks."
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