Raymond jumps into the automatic vehicle game
A lot of the buzz at this year’s ProMat was around the introduction of new automatic guided vehicles by traditional materials handling vendors manufactured by lift truck partners.
Not to be left out, Raymond, announced last Friday that they are developing an automatic guided lift truck that will use vision guided technology from Seegrid. The technology will first be available on a standard Raymond Class 3 lift truck or tow vehicle that can operate with or without a driver.
According to Frank Devlin, Raymond’s marketing manager for advanced technologies, the vehicles will be manufactured at Raymond’s facility in Muscatine, Iowa, and should be available early in 2012. Devlin added that the partnership with Seegrid will be exclusive to Raymond, at least initially.
Devlin told me Raymond’s motivation is simple: customers are interested in automation. “I did a lot of the market research for this, and what I found is that our customers are interested in AGVs,” Devlin said. “But they also want a vehicle that can be easily serviced. We think there’s an opportunity for a production vehicle that can be maintained by our network of dealers.”
While AGVs are most common in manufacturing, Raymond is banking on large distribution centers as the market for this new hybrid vehicle. Traditional AGVs have been a hard sell in distribution in part because they work in environments with predictable paths. A lift truck in a distribution center, on the other hand, may end up almost anywhere in the facility. That’s a plus for Seegrid’s guidance system, which uses cameras to navigate around the facility. “You can train the vehicle on a new path in an hour or two,” says Devlin.
One of the things I find interesting in this emerging space is the different approaches providers are taking to this problem. The Raymond vehicle can operate as both a lift truck and an AGV. But Raymond is also taking a conservative, cost-effective approach, at least initially. The vehicle won’t integrate with a warehouse management or ERP system. That means an operator will tell it where to go, based on preprogrammed routes. In addition, an operator will still board the truck to pick up a pallet. The vehicle will be able to automatically drop a load without a driver interface, but it wouldn’t be able to automatically put a load away into a pallet rack. For that reason, Devlin imagines it as “horizontal transportation,” say delivering a pallet from the receiving area to various drop off points in a storage area.
“This will not be as sophisticated as an AGV,” he said. “But, it will not be as complicated to maintain as an AGV and it will not be as expensive. We view it as flexible automation.”