Is a hybrid AGV in your future
If you see hybrid AGV and think of the Prius, you’re not alone. A press release touting a new hybrid AGV had me thinking the same thing. However, that’s not what Egemin has in mind, according to Dave Noble, the AGV-maker’s marketing communications director.
The hybrid AGV Egemin is touting, and will have on display at ProMat, is a vehicle with dual functionality: an off-the-shelf man-aboard lift truck that can operate manually, like a traditional lift truck, or in automatic mode as a laser-guided AGV. Egemin will announce the maker of the vehicle at ProMat.
Noble says the vehicle was three years in development. “We had some key requirements,” he explains. “We wanted a vehicle that is widely used. We wanted 5,000 pounds of lifting capacity. We wanted 300 inches of vertical lift. It had to be easy to operate in manual mode, easy to be put back into automatic and it had to be reliable.” To that last point, the lift truck manufacturer was selected because it has an established maintenance network in every major US city.
There was one other key requirement: Egemin wanted a vehicle that would be able to perform automatic trailer loading and unloading when it was in AGV mode. Egemin clearly sees automation on the dock as a key area for future growth of the AGV industry, especially by warehouse and distribution center operators. And while trailer loading has been on display at the last couple of ProMat and NA shows, Noble says trailer unloading is the next frontier. “We are actually doing trailer unloading with these vehicles,” he says.
According to Noble, Egemin has already received 10 system orders for hybrid AGVs.
I have not seen the vehicles in operation, though we hope to talk to a customer. What I find interesting about the concept is that it addresses one of the key hurdles to adopting automation, which is flexibility. Automation is often thought of as solid choice for repeatable and predictable processes, but little about business today is predictable, especially in distribution.
In the AGV industry, we have already seen the development of smart carts, mobile robots and integrated vehicle and picking operations, like the one announced by Danaher and Dematic. This takes that concept a step further with a vehicle that can operate in two modes. “We think this is the ultimate in materials handling flexibility,” says Noble. “It will run automatically. Or, you can put it into manual mode.”