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7 fresh ways to think about AGVs

Automatic guided vehicles are not new to materials handling, but the focus on where they’re being used is changing.

Using automatic guided carts (AGCs) as continuously moving assembly lines at an automotive assembly plant offers flexibility in operations.

By Maida Napolitano, Contributing Editor
September 01, 2012

5. For storage and retrieval applications
Unmanned reach trucks and turret trucks (Dematic) can automatically store and retrieve pallets in both narrow aisle and very narrow aisle (VNA) racking configurations. Systems like this can offer three benefits: labor reduction, safer operations and reduced product/equipment damage, says Scott Hinke, vice president and general manager for Dematic’s AGV business. He calls this type of technology: “automating the conventional.”

This application can be retrofitted into existing rack configurations with very little infrastructure changes, adds Mats Herrstromer, global product manager for AGVs. Essentially, the vehicle replaces a fixed crane in a traditional automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS). He adds that in VNA applications where aisles can go as low as 68 inches, the traffic management system ensures that two vehicles don’t get stuck in non-passing aisles. “We know exactly where each vehicle is at all times. We’re managing vehicle traffic and priorities of moves at the same time,” Herrstromer says. 

6. Use for picking
Increasingly, automatic guided vehicles are not a standalone solution; they are working in conjunction with other technologies or as one component in an overall process. One example involves the use of an automatic lift truck in a traditional pick-to-pallet operation.

In a typical process, an order selector drives a walkie rider into a pick zone and then gets on and off the truck to pick cartons to a pallet. When all the items in that zone have been picked, or the pallet is complete, the order selector drives the truck to the next zone or task location.

In the revamped process, the order selector doesn’t have to get on and off the truck to complete picking tasks in the pick zone. Instead, the order selector receives picking instructions using voice pick technology and picks to a pallet on a walkie rider equipment with AGV controls. The lift truck automatically moves with the order selector through pick locations. Travel distance is reduced and productivity is increased by up to 100%.

Those gains are the result of reducing or eliminating the amount of time spent on unproductive activities such as: taking the completed pallets to the stretch wrapper, transporting the wrapped pallet to staging, and retrieving the next set of empty pallets. “With this solution, the picker remains in the pick aisle to concentrate on the task at hand and not on driving the vehicle,” explains Dematic’s Hinke. “The AGV automatically transports full and empty pallets.”

7. For automatic truck loading (and unloading)
Historically, AGVs’ area of work in a plant or distribution center was limited to tasks taking place between the loading and receiving docks. Lift trucks still loaded and unloaded trailers. That is changing, thanks to automatic truck loading technology, or ATL, according to Mark Longacre, marketing manager for JBT Corp. “It’s beyond a beta site installation,” says Longacre. He points out that JBT has 60 ATL vehicles in the field and that other suppliers also have implementations up and running. “Trailer unloading is starting to pick up too, although it’s a lot more difficult because the jostling of the load during transport causing pallets to be slightly askew and more difficult to pick up.”

While automatic trailer loading is typically justified based on labor savings, Longacre notes that users appreciate that it improves safety and reduced product and equipment damage at a busy dock. 

Companies mentioned in this article
Daifuku Webb:
RMT Robotics:
Savant Automation:

About the Author

Maida Napolitano
Contributing Editor

Maida Napolitano has worked as a Senior Engineer for various consulting companies specializing in supply chain, logistics, and physical distribution since 1990. She’s is the principal author for the following publications: Using Modeling to Solve Warehousing Problems (WERC); Making the Move to Cross Docking (WERC); The Time, Space & Cost Guide to Better Warehouse Design (Distribution Group); and Pick This! A Compendium of Piece-Pick Process Alternatives (WERC). She has worked for clients in the food, health care, retail, chemical, manufacturing and cosmetics industries, primarily in the field of facility layout and planning, simulation, ergonomics, and statistic analysis. She holds BS and MS degrees in Industrial Engineering from the University of the Philippines and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, respectively. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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