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Automated Guided Vehicle (AGVs)
Computer-controlled and wheel-based, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are load carriers that travel along the floor of a facility without an onboard operator or driver. Their movement is directed by a combination of software and sensor-based guidance systems. Because they move on a predictable path with precisely controlled acceleration and deceleration and include automatic obstacle detection bumpers, AGVs provide safe movement of loads. Typical AGVs applications include transportation of raw materials, work-in-process, and finished goods in support of manufacturing production lines, and storage/retrieval or other movements in support of picking in warehousing and distribution applications.
What Is an Automatic Guided Vehicle?
There are several types of AGVs. These include:
Automated carts – The simplest kind of AGV with minimal features for lowest cost implementation.
Unit load AGV – Individual vehicles that transport loads (typically pallets, bins, carts or bundles) on forks or on the AGV’s deck. Roll-handling AGVs specifically handle heavy rolls of steel or paper.
Tugger AGV – Powered units pulling a series of non-motorized trailers that each carries a load.
Automated forklift AGV – An existing forklift truck whose controls have been converted to allow unmanned operation
Typically battery powered, AGV systems consist of multiple vehicles that navigate along pre-defined guide paths. Vehicles navigate in the facility using several guidance technologies including floor-surface mounted magnetic tape or bars, lasers, optical sensors, and magnet/gyroscope based inertial guidance. These guidance technologies make it easy to change the routes and expand the AGV system in response to facility changes for a flexible and scalable material handling solution.
For real-time control and monitoring of multiple AGVs, the computer-based software uses wireless connections to collect data about each unit’s current location, then interfaces with software for destination and routing logic. The software directs the vehicles’ travel by wirelessly communicating specific tasks to the AGVs via radio frequency (RF). Instructions include stops, starts, changing speed, lifting, lowering, multi-point turns, reverses, diverging from the guide path, and interfacing with other material handling equipment and systems—both automated and static.
How Are Automatic Guided Vehicles Used?
AGVs are used in a variety of areas to support processing and handling throughout a facility:
Assembly: Moving products through production processes
Kitting: Collecting parts for assembly
Transportation: Loading pallets and loose parts
Staging: Delivering pallets for production processes
Warehousing: Moving products from stretch wrappers to docks or storage
Order picking: Moving ordered products to trailer-loading area for distribution, and transporting a platform for a picker to place selected items upon
Parts/just-in-time (JIT) delivery: Towing trailers of parts/materials to consumption points
Transfer/shuttle: Transfer loads across high traffic aisles
What Are the Benefits?
An AGV can provide a variety of benefits:
Accountability – Once a product is onboard an AGV, it is tracked so “lost” or misplaced product will be minimized
Automatic line balancing – In a production environment with multiple operations conducted at varying times, AGVs can assist in line balancing
Cost control – An AGV system’s costs are very predictable, while labor costs tend to increase and can change quickly depending on local economic conditions
Facility maintenance – Collision avoidance capabilities prevent damage within the facility
Flexibility – An AGV’s path can be changed as production and handling needs evolve
Fewer restrictions – Free-roaming, AGVs eliminate access issues created by conveyors and require less space than conventional forklifts, allowing for narrower aisles
Reduced operating costs – Charging and battery handling can be automatic with an AGV system and the controlled acceleration/deceleration minimizes wear on components
Reduction in product damage – An AGV can handle products gently, reducing scrap and waste
Repeatability – AGVs perform repetitive movement tasks predictably and reliably
Safety – An AGV can always follow their guide path and stop if they encounter an obstruction, improving the safety of surrounding personnel
Scheduling – Because of their reliability and on-time delivery, AGVs improve scheduling capabilities and the efficiency of operations
Scalability – More AGVs can be added to expand capacity and throughput
Where Are Automatic Guided Vehicles Used?
AGVs provide automated material movement for a variety of industries including:
Warehousing and distribution