60 Seconds with Bryan Knott

Modern Materials Handling Magazine sat down with Bryan Knott, Vice-chair, MHI Automatic Guided Vehicle Systems industry group (AGVS); senior global production manager, mobile automation for Dematic (a KION Company) to discuss Automatic Guided Vehicle systems

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Title: Vice-chair, MHI Automatic Guided Vehicle Systems industry group (AGVS); senior global production manager, mobile automation for Dematic (a KION Company)

Location: Charlotte, N.C. and Milwaukee, Wisc.

Primary Focus: The AGVS industry group promotes the use of automatic guided vehicle (AGV) systems in manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and other key markets and aims to be recognized as the independent authority for end users and suppliers on market trends, standards, technology developments and applications.

Modern: How would you describe the AGV industry today?

Knott: The landscape is changing. There has been a lot of merger and acquisition activity among manufacturers that may change the makeup of the industry leaders. We’re also seeing some non-U.S. manufacturers of AGVs looking for distribution deals to import their vehicles into the U.S. market. Similarly, fork truck manufacturers are looking to partner with technology providers to begin offering AGVs. There is also a strong push toward the non-palletized materials handling and even order fulfillment areas. Finally, we’re seeing the emergence of further innovation including autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, and vehicles that combine the mobility of an AGV with robotic arms for picking. That’s being driven by some of the leaders in e-commerce.

Modern: Are those innovations translating into sales?

Knott: While the AGVS industry group doesn’t have formal sales numbers at this time, anecdotally, our members are seeing 10%+ in year-over-year growth. There has been research suggesting that the worldwide AGV market experienced better than 38% growth year over year.

Modern: What does the industry group believe is driving the increase in sales?

Knott: AGVs and automatic guided carts (AGC) are not new, but the technology is proven in reliability and efficiency. Technologies that enable navigation and finite motion control are becoming commoditized, which improves the economics of operating AGVs and AGCs. Several years ago, manufacturers and warehouse operations needed at least two shifts and typically three to meet 36-month ROI projections. Today, we are seeing two-shift operations as standard candidates for automation. Further, the labor pool is shrinking, which also increases labor rates. Lastly, product and facility damage can be significantly mitigated through automation, which is now becoming part of a typical ROI calculation.

Modern: Are there developments that will impact the future design of AGVs?

Knott: Yes. There has been an explosion of AMR manufacturers in the materials handling space in the past three years, driven by interest in the robotics industry. Many of these new entrants are supported through venture capital, and some of the first product offerings are similar to vehicles that AGV members have been selling for years now. The innovation they are bringing to the market is the application of navigational technologies that allow for smaller, more agile vehicles to navigate in and around human counterparts for small quantity order picking. The technology is not proprietary to these companies, but it is driving market demand due to their marketing efforts. We are actively working to grow our organization to include these companies and help showcase their value.

Modern: Do you see these navigation technologies finding their way into what we’d think of as traditional AGVs and AGCs?

Knott: I think so. The new entrants are primarily offering the horizontal transport of goods. They aren’t capable right now of vertical movements, such as putting pallets away in a rack, where tolerances are very tight. Some do not have a traffic management system or the ability to integrate with an enterprise system. However, traditional AGV manufacturers are paying attention and are

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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