For many years, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) have proven their worth with a long history of automatically transporting loads within a production or distribution environment. To many, that’s the extent of what AGVs can do.
The thing is, there are many activities where these autonomous mobile robots can be used to bring value to your operation. Here are four areas that you might not have been aware of where AGVs can help you today.
1. It’s Okay to Leave Your AGV out in the Cold (Storage)
While your car might not operate very well in a harsh freezing environment (-20 degrees Celsius and below), AGVs can work in frozen environments, and do so every day.
With special equipment and on-board heaters, AGVs can effectively pick, transport, and move items in your frozen facility, saving workers from the harsh climate. Unlike people, the machines don’t need breaks from the cold and can literally work there all day.
The ROI for AGVs in a frozen environment can even be stronger than in a traditional (not cold) distribution facility when you consider that human workers in frozen storage warehouses are only allowed to work 40 minutes for every hour they are in the cold. Not so with robotic AGVs.
AGVs in cold storage do have their “kryptonite,” and that is that the machines can’t go back and forth between cold and ambient temperature storage as condensation collects on sensors, potentially blurring the vision of the machine. The solution is to keep cold machines in the cold and have them pass work to other machines or workers in the ambient areas between the temperature zones.
2. Automatic Trailer Loading
Automatic Rear Truck Loading extends a mobile automation solution beyond the four walls of a facility and into the back of trucks at the dock doors.
The dock area used to be considered a handoff point to load a truck. Pallets or other containers would be delivered to shipping lanes either manually or using automation such as AGVs. From there, workers would use forklift trucks to load items onto a truck.
What if the same automation technology that picked the product from the distribution or production area could automatically load that same product onto a truck? It can. Automatic Rear Truck Loading is not a new technology. It uses an AGV to automatically load a truck with pallets or other unit loads of virtually any required loading pattern, including mixed-orientation patterns and “pin wheeling.”
A key component of the AGV that can allow the same AGV to pick product from racking and also to load product into the truck is the mast of the AGV. In this case bigger (or taller really) isn’t better.
An AGV that can both pick from rack and load into a trailer uses a staged mast. This type of extension mast is actually two, three, or four separate mast pieces attached to extend (like a “hook and ladder” fire truck). This allows the same AGV to extend the mast to pick product up to four levels high in multi-level rack storage and transport it into the truck at your dock door.
3. Narrow & Very Narrow Aisle Operation and AS/RS-like Operation…from an AGV
While an AGV can perform almost any activity that a forklift truck can, AGV functionality extends far beyond simple transport of goods. One area where AGVs excel is in narrow and very narrow aisle storage and picking.
In narrow aisle operation, an AGV can automatically pick up and deliver pallets, containers, rolls, carts and many other conveyable loads from floor or racking. An AGV’s tight turning allows for operation in narrow aisle racking environments.
Very narrow aisle (VNA) AGVs operate in a similar way, but can be used in high-bay racking aisles, very much like an automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). VNA AGVs use turret or telescopic forks to store loads in the warehouse racks.
For VNA AGV operation, the AGV relies on a dual-mode navigation. This allows the AGV to navigate by laser or camera outside the narrow aisle environment and on wire or magnet when operating within the aisles, where more exacting measurements are required to store loads.
4. Dual-Use AGVs Working for You or Right Along Side You
Historically, the purpose of AGVs was to perform work without people or separately from workers. This approach is changing with next generation Dual-Use AGVs. These machines can operate as both traditional manual truck and as AGV (completely autonomously or in sync with workers).
For an each-pick distribution centre — where orders are cases and not pallets — Dual-Use AGVs provide valuable, labour-saving picking options, and can be much less expensive than an AS/RS or conveyor solution. The AGV automatically follows a worker at all times during picking for an efficient, ergonomic order fulfillment technology solution.
The worker simply drives into an aisle and steps off to begin picking. The AGV automatically maintains an exact distance from the worker and the racking or pallet positions. The AGV takes control of driving and steering, freeing the worker to concentrate fully on picking/putting. When the worker stops for the next activity, the AGV advances to the appropriate pallet position.
This approach eliminates the time-consuming actions of getting on and off the machine to move to the next location and also walking with product over distance. The result can translate into a 30% increase in picking performance.
AGVs An Integral Part of the Supply Chain
AGVs can bring fast ROI and efficiency to an operation in many more areas than you may realise. And as technology advances, the options will continue to grow for making AGVs an integral part of your supply chain operation.