AGVs gain respect

This month, Trebilcock takes us inside the Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK) facility to get a glimpse at one of the most innovative applications of AGVs we’ve seen to date.

By ·

Anyone who has followed the evolution of materials handling equipment understands that automatic guided vehicles are certainly not the new kids on the block. They first hit the floor more than 60 years ago under the name “driverless vehicle,” and thus began the long and arduous process of winning the respect of manufacturing and distribution managers looking to apply lean processes to improve productivity. 

During those early years they were expensive (more than $100,000 per unit), could only take one fixed path using wires, they’re weren’t very smart, and the sheer size of their batteries relegated them to mostly simple tasks like towing carts back and forth between pre-assigned locations.

But as time marched on, AGV suppliers knew that they needed to design and upgrade the functionality to mimic the operational abilities of a human being—since the original idea was to relieve humans from the tedium of moving materials from point A to point B so they could concentrate on more value-added tasks. And by all of our reports, those suppliers have succeed.

As contributing editor Maida Napolitano reported last month in her article “Seven fresh ways to think about AGVs,” over the past 10 years, AGV suppliers, with the help of development partners and the input of end users, have greatly decreased battery size while improving energy output and upgrading circuit boards. They have also applied traffic management software and sensors to make the equipment smarter, more reliable, and much less expensive.

We’re now beginning to seen entire manufacturing operations being revolutionized by the application of AGVs and their first cousins, including automatic guided carts (AGCs), automatic guided tuggers (AGTs), and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that use lasers and vision systems to learn the layout of your facility free of any fixed path.

In fact, just a few months ago, executive editor Bob Trebilcock took us inside John Deere’s 5.9-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Waterloo, Iowa, where the company has applied 35 AGVs to create a flexible, mobile assembly line that created a safer working environment and improved quality.

This month, Trebilcock takes us inside the Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK) facility to get a glimpse at one of the most innovative applications of AGVs we’ve seen to date. Over the past six years, Paul Stafford, the facility’s AGV implementation engineering lead, has rolled out more than 100 AGVs to transport raw metal parts and finished subassembly components through its 7.5-million-square-foot assembly plant in Georgetown.

But the most intriguing part of TMMK’s story is that its now putting five different types of AGVs—including man-operated tuggers that were converted to AGTs—to work, resulting in a huge boost to productivity, millions in savings, and allowing 42 staff members to move into more value-added positions.

“On top of the labor management piece of this story, what impressed me most was the way that TMMK brought together several different kinds of AGV technologies to address their materials handling needs,” says Trebilcock. “What’s more, the conversion of conventional, man-operated tuggers into automatic vehicles makes this facility truly unique.”


About the Author

Michael Levans, Group Editorial Director
Michael Levans is Group Editorial Director of Peerless Media’s Supply Chain Group of publications and websites including Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management Review, Modern Materials Handling, and Material Handling Product News. He’s a 23-year publishing veteran who started out at the Pittsburgh Press as a business reporter and has spent the last 17 years in the business-to-business press. He’s been covering the logistics and supply chain markets for the past seven years. You can reach him at [email protected]

Subscribe to Modern Materials Handling Magazine!

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Find out what the world’s most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Latest Whitepaper
Your Guide to Voice for the Warehouse
Is voice a good fit for my operation? How would voice work in my warehouse? With the help of the Vitech Guide to Voice, you can find all the answers to your voice questions in one place.
Download Today!
From the October 2017 Modern Materials Handling Issue
An early adopter, Rochester Drug Cooperative is using robotic piece-picking technology to complement picking of slow-moving items. System report for Rochester Drug Cooperative, Robotic picking and inventory management, Innovative distribution center robotics solutions , IAM Robotics case study
Injecting agility into WMS implementation
The Big Picture: Business as Unusual
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
The State of the DC Voice Market
A lot has changed in the last 10 years, especially in voice technology. This webinar will cover the state of the voice market, review two leading voice solutions and help you gain a better understanding of the options and capabilities available today.
Register Today!
EDITORS' PICKS
Rochester Drug Cooperative: Robots ready for work
It’s still early stages, but Rochester Drug Cooperative is proving that mobile robotic piece...
Manufacturing Day: 2,716 events from Hawaii to Alaska to Puerto Rico
Events to be scheduled throughout the month, so the remaining 249,185 manufacturing firms in the...

System Report: Pouch sorter powers Stage’s fulfillment needs
How a hometown department store chain transformed its e-fulfillment processes with pouch sortation...
Cubing and Weighing Equipment: Measure Up
The use of cubing and weighing equipment is growing beyond dimensional weight applications.