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How to improve warehouse efficiency with autonomous guided vehicles

Nonwoven production line | Francesco Furzi, 5 July 2022

We continue our journey into the production process of a nonwoven reel. In this fourth appointment we will cover the handling in the warehouse and how the latter can be automated to achieve greater precision and efficiency.


Challenges in reel handling

A characteristic that must absolutely remain unchanged during the handling phase is the quality of the reel and of the material it is made of. This is true both when it is necessary to move a reel to an off-line machinery or to another production line for further processing or when the final product simply needs to be stored waiting to be shipped to the customer.

If not carried out correctly, all these operations can generate defects or malformations in the reel, obviously causing economic damage. For this reason, thanks to technological developments, it is now possible to implement solutions such as autonomous guided vehicles (or AGVs), developed specifically to move heavy loads with great precision and delicacy and a greater speed of execution.

AGVs and the benefits of warehouse automation

In a period in which automation is adopted in an increasing number of industrial processes, the number of companies that decide to equip themselves with AGVs for the handling, storage and picking of raw materials, semi-finished and finished products grows day by day.

This wide diffusion is due, in addition to the positive impact on process efficiency we have talked about, to the fact that they are able to guarantee greater safety for the operators, who will not be required to manually perform handling operations that could lead to injuries. Furthermore, the combined use of AGVs and automated warehouses leads to further advantages, such as the optimization of available spaces and the increase in both the efficiency of the entire logistics chain and the accuracy in inventory management, which will put companies in condition of achieving just-in-time delivery goals more easily.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that the investment in a plant with autonomous guided vehicles, in a 24/7 work scenario and considering the lower manpower required, the higher guaranteed productivity and the related tax incentives, is normally repaid in 18-36 months.

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The concept of vertical integration and the advantages in terms of efficiency

Additional elements that are leading to an increasingly pervasive adoption of industrial automation are linked to the possibilities offered by Industry 4.0 and the IoT.

And not just with regards to the warehouse. However, in order to be exploited to the fullest, new technologies must be able to exchange data both at a production level and in all other business processes.

Today, we use robotic systems equipped with machine learning and controlled by remote computers to process a wide range of information with minimal human intervention.

The same goes for autonomous guided vehicles: not only the software solutions for the control and management of AGVs regulate their activities, but they can also integrate the warehouse with other areas, such as production and planning. This offers an important advantage: obtaining real-time inventory data thanks to full production traceability.

The goal is to minimize stock levels and the related induced costs, anticipating the planning of production peaks and the relative allocation of the scarce and most precious resources of the company.

Thus was born what is called the "software pyramid", from which it emerges that the role of MES and WMS is central in the vertical integration of all components. 

At the top of this pyramid we find ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), the software dedicated to the management of corporate resources, which is deeply integrated with the organization of the company.

Immediately below the ERP we find the aforementioned MES (Manufacturing Execution System) and WMS (Warehouse Management System) software. The MES allows to manage the production, transmitting to the WMS the picking lists of the raw materials needed in production and also calling the return to the warehouse of the partially used material (WIP), thus guaranteeing the continuity of the production processes.

This is made possible by the integration between the MES and the WMS, which is the software in charge of managing the warehouse, efficiently connecting logistics and production. It is in fact the WMS that automatically locates the required raw materials and minimizes the transit time to the production lines, proposing the so-called "optimal routes" to perform the picking operations.

Proceeding towards the base of the software pyramid, we find the PLC systems or SCADA software that manage plant and safety monitoring, allowing prompt intervention in case of need.

In principle, their operation is similar, but the PLCs are usually integrated inside the machine to monitor its operation, while the SCADA (Supervisor Control and Data Acquisition) software is external to the machine and has a global supervisory role, being able to monitor multiple machines or systems.

At the base of the pyramid we find the actual machines with their control systems. As we said before, the role of MES and WMS is central in this vertical integration structure because they act as the glue between process management, monitoring and machinery.

It is from the close collaboration between MES and WMS that the instructions sent to the autonomous guided vehicles are produced. If errors arise at any level of the pyramid, these are also communicated to the other components and the central supervision system automatically reallocates the available resources to guarantee the execution of the missions, without stopping the lines.

The AGVs of the A.Celli R-WAY® product line

In the field of AGVs and automatic warehouses, an excellent example of innovation based on consolidated experience is represented by the integrated solutions of the A.Celli R-WAY® range.

Thanks to the use of autonomous guided vehicles equipped with data collection systems and RFID tag readers, capable of interfacing with the company ERP and with a specially developed digital suite, we obtain an intelligent automatic system that can work independently 24 hours a day and that uses the cloud to communicate with data analysis and tracking software. A perfect example of Industry 4.0, in which everything is interconnected and automated and digitized as much as possible.

In fact, the concepts of digitization, integration and traceability have inspired the integrated solutions of the A.Celli R-WAY® range, the result of a highly specialized and innovative vision that not only considers warehouse logics but embraces the entire production line.

A.Celli solutions have been developed specifically for the nonwoven, paper and tissue industries: along the way, the reel is encoded with data and characteristics, passes through wrapping and eventual palletizing phases, is carefully transported to its destination and stored. All without the need for human intervention and 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It should also be emphasized that A.Celli solutions guarantee safety for operators and the absence of contamination of the products handled, a fundamental requirement in the hygienic and medical sector.

Do you want to find out more about the complete range of A.Celli solutions for the end of line? Download our free eBook “A.Celli end-of-line solutions for nonwovens production”!

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