We have been talking about automation and autonomous driving vehicles within the warehouse for some years now. In fact, the first self-driving system dates back to the early 1950s, when Barrett Electronics of Northbrook in Illinois invented a trailer truck that followed a wire on the floor instead of a track.
Nowadays, technology has gone a long way and it’s making it possible to automate numerous functions within the warehouse, achieving a result of increased safety, reduced manual errors and improved accuracy in load management. So, what does "Automatic Guided Vehicle" mean today and what are the most useful types of it, in a warehouse?
Automatic Guided Vehicle: definition and advantages
An Automatic Guided Vehicle is an autonomous or mobile robot, guided by markers which could be wires, magnetic tape on the floor or laser references. These vehicles are increasingly used in the industrial sector to move materials from the production plant to the warehouse, or to manage storage more efficiently with a lower risk for the staff.
The choice of companies to use more and more automatic guided machines involves many advantages.
- First off, Automatic Guided Vehicles increase productivity, especially because they can work 24 hours a day, at a pace and under conditions that a worker could not support.
- Secondly, they are safer because they have a controlled drive, from braking to acceleration and deceleration phases. This reduces the accidents at work and consequently increases the overall efficiency of the company and of the warehouse: errors and accidents result in damage to products, equipment and structures and it is necessary to spend a lot of money to repair or replace them.
- Fixed automatic systems are more expensive and difficult to maintain, while Automatic Guided Vehicles guarantee a greater flexibility.
Automatic Guided Vehicle: available technologies
There are numerous technologies involved into the driving of an AGV system. The first ever invented was the wire guide, made with a thread placed under the floor surface and crossed by an electrical signal. Over the years other more modern methods have been developed. One of them is the magnetic guide: in this case the path is defined by a series of magnets inserted inside holes in the floor. Another one is the magnetic-gyroscopic guide, with the introduction of a gyroscope that increases navigation accuracy. There are even more advanced guides that use lasers and GPS systems. The more the technology increases, the more, of course, the performance of the AGVs is greater.
Automatic Guided Vehicle: the possibilities of use in the warehouse
It is possible to use the AGV within an establishment for many tasks.
The autonomous driving systems connect the warehouse automatically and are capable of transporting material that is very bulky or heavy without any risk. There are stacker cranes and vehicles that transport pallets and reels with all the necessary accessories (rollers, fork-lifts, special protections and so on). The AGVs for the handling of loads have many advantages: from the possibility of working without human intervention to the ease of the reconfiguration of routes, from eliminating destination errors to the possibility of making updates without stopping the systems. All of this contributes to a greater precision in inventory management.
Integrated end-of-line solutions
From the delivery of the shipments to the loading-unloading of the trucks, the integrated end-of-line solutions are fundamental for the automation of processes such as packaging and RFID labeling. In general, self-driving vehicles can be used for the management of the finished product, at the end of production, with consequent time savings and greater safety. Furthermore, AGVs can interact with storage systems for automated product storage, or for handling reels and pallets in shipping areas
Among the AGV vehicles we can mention:
- vehicles for cellulose bales (or other raw material) transfers;
- vehicles for master roll transfers;
- vehicles for the transportation of pallets or crates.
These are the most common solutions for automatic warehouse management, but there are some suppliers who can build customized solutions, based on the needs of customers within their own production processes.
In conclusion, the Automated Guided Vehicles can be used in the automation of warehouse functions such as storage and material management, as well as for end-of-line operations such as packaging and labeling. Self-driving vehicles and highly automated machinery guarantee a high level of performance, easy maintenance, reliable and silent operation, protecting personnel from heavy and potentially risky tasks.
To evaluate the effectiveness of this kind of automatic solution, we wanted to compare it with the emblem of manual-guided handling, the forklift. Download the free "Forklift VS AGV carts: what is best for the warehouse?" report now and discover yourself the advantages and ROI of each solution!