AGV: Automated Guided Vehicles

  • Automatic warehouses today
  • What are AVGs and what they are for
  • Goods handling and storage
  • A.Celli R-WAY Integrated Solutions

Automatic warehouses today

Automation 4.0 has arrived in warehouses, and it was definitely needed. Perhaps still considered as static places where goods simply remain parked, today warehouses have become and are increasingly becoming dynamic and smart environments, where there is a place for robotics (especially for AGVs, Automatic Guided Vehicles), computer science and sensors. It did not happen out of whim, because in the last few years a significant increase in complexity has affected the activities of warehouse and logistics.

Regardless of the type of goods sold, warehouses today contain many more products and much more data than in the past. In order to satisfy more and more demanding customers, who are informed and expect a greater customization, the offers have expanded and deepened. Furthermore, with the introduction of traceability systems, monitoring, sensors, Internet of Things connectivity, in many factories and supply chains, a veritable explosion of data has occurred. Data are indeed a resource but also a complicated material to manage. Moreover, in order to pursue the levels of service provided by Amazon and other e-commerce giants, even the most traditional companies find themselves under pressure, having to increasingly reduce delivery time.

How can we deal with such an important and probably irreversible change? Automation is a powerful tool for reducing complexity – and costs! – and is also a forward-looking investment that pays for itself quickly. Two types of automation: "material", related to the storage and handling of goods; and "immaterial", made with management and control software solutions. It sounds complicated, but the tools to support the technological transformation of the warehouse are certainly not lacking.

Automated racking and AGVs, Automated Guided Vehicles, overturn the old model of a static warehouse and bring new efficiency in the storage, handling, picking, loading and unloading of goods (palletized, in boxes or in bulk). All these procedures are suitable for being automated, with excellent results. A dynamic and automatic storage and handling system, for example, allows the entire height of the warehouse to be exploited (transforming it into a "vertical warehouse"): up to 90% more space can be saved, at the same square footage, compared to a traditional layout. And, in addition to space optimization, greater speed is obtained (no time is wasted searching for an article or lot), precision (zero human error) and safety (no difficult handling, loading and unloading operations are attempted).

Transform the warehouse with logistics automation

In general, however, we could define the automated warehouse as an automated plant for the storage of goods, consisting of four main elements:

  • the shelving, which allows the vertical volumes to be exploited;
  • the stacker crane, a frame that moves vertically and sometimes horizontally, sliding on a rail, with rope, belt or chain traction;
  • the handling, i.e. the set of devices that extract and move load units (automatic conveyors, shuttles, rollers or chains and other elements);   
  • the electronic component, i.e. the electrical cabinet, a computer and a management and control software.

Both the handling of materials and products and the loading and unloading operations are very suitable to be automated, leading to great savings in time and great gains in efficiency and precision.

What are AVGs and what they are for

What are AVGs and what they are for

AGVs, Automated Guided Vehicle, play a leading role in the field of warehouses "4.0". They move, load, unload, collect material and much more, carrying out these tasks with a strength and precision that human beings could not guarantee, and they do all this without having to be guided or controlled by a person and, if desired, without interruption at night. They are, no doubt, tireless workers and excellent allies in the field of warehouse management and logistics. This army of "specialized warehouse workers" is very heterogeneous, even though we could define AGVs in a generic way as moving robots, whose task is to move, store, pick up and load goods both inside the warehouse and in the loading / unloading areas.

The term "automated guided vehicles" encompasses not just one technology but a whole world of hardware and software solutions. And it also contains a story, which from the fifties to the present has led warehouses to turn into something different from a simple container of goods. The idea behind AGVs is not new: it was 1953 when the entrepreneur Arthur Mac Barrett designed the first example of an automated guided vehicle in history, made by modifying a tractor so that it could follow a cable crossed by an electrical signal. His company brought to market an improved version of that invention a year later, calling it Guide-o-Matic. After the evolutions of the fifties and sixties, in 1973 Volvo developed a vehicle controlled by 280 computers! Today such equipment is no longer necessary. Instead, a single computer equipped with a control and management software is sufficient to control an AGV or an AGV fleet. Over the years, the family of autonomously guided robots, born as a substitute for horizontal conveyors, has considerably expanded and diversified in appearance, technology and possible uses. There are virtually no limits to uses, just as there is no rigid classification but rather variants that, crossing each other, determine the identikit of each solution.

  • Guidance system. Some vehicles move following electrical signals (wires under the floor) or optical signals (coloured bands), some others orientate themselves with magnets or receive coordinates via radio waves or GPS, others are guided by laser beams, or even use a combination of several methods.
  • Capacity load. Some models boast an incredible strength, raising quintals or even tons of material. Others are more compact, therefore optimized for a limited floor space and lower energy consumption.
  • Tools. Some AGVs are designed to move pallets, others move shelves, others drag carts or containers, others grab rollers, reels of paper or fabric. Depending on the purpose, the vehicles may include a forklift, a trolley, self-propelled arms, a load unit, bridges or rocker arms.
  • Power supply. In some systems the battery must be replaced manually, while in others it needs to be recharged and/or replaced automatically to ensure continuous operation. Some AGVs recover energy in the so-called topping-up stations.
  • Running capability. They usually move on a wheel or rail. In some solutions it is possible to change the routes dynamically through control and management software solutions. Furthermore, "hybrid" AGVs can both operate in complete autonomy and allow manual controls if necessary.

In all these cases, today’s automated guided vehicles are much more than shuttles without a driver. They are flexible and versatile solutions, which not only make the warehouse and logistics activities faster but also create new opportunities.

Goods handling and storage: all the advantages of automation

Goods handling and storage: all the advantages of automation

There are tasks that machines can perform faster, more forcefully, more precisely, longer and more efficiently than humans can. And while the machine works autonomously, the warehouse personnel can devote to higher value-added activities, such as quality control. In a nutshell, this is the mission of AGVs, the diverse set of automatic guided vehicles. Depending on their characteristics, these systems can handle raw materials, semi-finished and finished products, being able to withstand heavy loads, even of several tons. Some are designed to transport pallets, move full or empty trolleys, cellulose bales, reels of fabric or paper and more, performing the operations required by the control software. Automation can be applied to both handling, i.e. storage, internal handling and picking, and logistics management.

The adoption of AGVs requires an initial investment and a change of mentality and warehouse management processes, but on the other hand it produces several benefits. Listed below are the main ones.

  • Lower personnel costs of the warehouse. The work of robots means being able to give up part of the staff (perhaps by allocating it to tasks with greater added value) and therefore contain the labour cost.
  • Lower energy and rental costs. AGVs and stacker cranes allow spaces optimization, for example by exploiting shelving and vertical volumes: in this way it is possible to reduce the surface area occupied by storage or to accommodate more items with the same horizontal dimensions. Smaller areas translate into lower energy costs for lighting, heating and cooling, and/or less rental fees for leased facilities.
  • Increased productivity, without additional personnel costs. AGVs can operate 24 hours a day or at night, eliminating downtime, speeding up warehouse and logistics processes and always ensuring timely shipments.
  • Increased operational flexibility. Automation technologies can meet the needs of the warehouse and production, adapting to handle more references, for example, or longer work shifts during peak demand periods.
  • Increased speed and accuracy of operations. Mechanics and computer science, put together, eliminate mistakes in picking, weighing, shipping or other procedures. Human error and inaccuracies are avoided.
  • Increased safety. Thanks to robotic vehicles, warehouse workers can avoid potentially dangerous maneuvers and operations by interacting with machines via computers, even if they are located in environments other than the one in which the AGV moves. This limits the risk of accidents at work, caused by height or heavy loads, and can be operated without danger even in temperature or hygienic conditions.
  • Increased hygiene and integrity of the goods. By handling the items as little as possible and reducing the margin of error, such as accidental falls, the risk of damaging or soiling the goods disappears. Therefore, waste (and associated costs) are reduced, but above all hygiene and integrity of the products are guaranteed, which is particularly important in sectors such as food industry, pharmaceutical industry and paper industry.
  • Increased control and traceability of products. Automation also concerns data flows. Control and management software solutions not only regulate the AGVs activities but can also integrate the warehouse activities with those of other areas (production, planning). The advantage of total traceability is combined with the best real time visibility of stock and inventory, the possibility of planning withdrawals and stocks and the ability to fathom data with analytics (looking for elements to optimize and new possibilities).

A.Celli R-WAY Integrated Solutions

In the field of reel management, automatic guided vehicles and automatic storage logics, A.Celli R-WAY Integrated Solutions is an excellent example of innovation and the result of a consolidated experience at the same time, a technology that looks to the future but relying firmly on business we could define as historical.

First of all, that of A.Celli Group, a group of two Lucca-based companies on the market for seventy-five years and specialised in technological solutions for the paper industry (A. Celli Paper) and non-woven fabric ( A.Celli Nonwovens) and that of Tecnoferrari, a company based in Modena, involved in automation since 1973, having deposited about 170 patents since then, and that boasts particular experience in the food, beverage, paper, pharmaceutical, industrial and logistics sectors. Out of the collaboration between these two realities, an automated, "smart", flexible and fast goods management system was born.

How does it work? The A.Celli brand technology specialised in fully integrated end-of-line management systems (Slittopack - Roll Handling) has been enriched thanks to the AGV automatic movement logics. From here, interfacing everything with the dynamics of integration and storage was natural. In fact, equipping the machines with data collection systems, with vision systems, with RFID tag readers that interact with ERP management systems and with a specially developed digital suite, the result was an intelligent system operating autonomously, that can work non-stop day and night and that communicates with data analysis and tracking software through the cloud. 

A perfect example of Industry 4.0, a model in which everything is interconnected and as automated and digitised as possible.

Because these are the magic words: digitisation, integration and traceability.  These are the key concepts on which a highly specialised and innovative vision has been developed, not just focused on the warehouse logic but that extends to managing the data and the logic of the entire production line, upstream and downstream.

Focus on the tissue world, paper and nonwovens. A.Celli R-WAY Integrated Solutions is an ad hoc solution for the tissue, paper and non-woven industry, and more. A system created to accompany the reel when moving forward, coding a special passport of data and features, moving from the wrapping and palletising phases, to then be transported to the destination and positioned precisely following the ideal layout of an automatic vehicle and moving much further up to interfacing with the other line machinery for the optimisation and quality of the product intended for converting and for the following process phases of the production chain.

In addition to connectivity, continuous operating and precision, easy installation and maintenance are its features. Because it is a system oriented to uninterrupted production, one of the most obvious advantages of its use is precisely the increase in productivity, but A.Celli R-WAY Integrated Solutions also guarantees safe operations and a perfectly hygienic processing of the handled items. And for the industry dedicated to personal hygiene, even more than for other sectors, this is a crucial need to safeguard the quality and avoid any material waste.