Perhaps unknown to many, the first discovery of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) actually happened in 1954, by Arthur Barrett. Since then, AGVs have advanced tremendously to revolutionise material handling and transport.
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What is an AGV?
An AGV is a self-guided vehicle designed to move autonomously according to a planned route, using different navigation systems, and perform their operations without direct human guidance. AGVs are typically employed for transportation of products, raw materials, pallets etc. Traditionally utilised in industrial environments, they are now also increasingly used by companies to transport products from one workstation to another.
Types of AGVs
Automated Guided Carts (AGCs) or Under Ride
AGCs are mobile platform robots that engage carts, trollies or shelves underneath to transport them safely. This engagement is made using a lifting device or a pin hook, while the load remains above or on the AGC - for this reason, AGCs are often referred to as Under Rides. AGCs are the most affordable type of AGVs, ranging around $15,000 (for 1-ton payload) to $25,000 (with natural navigation).
An automated pallet jack is a type of forklift AGV, conceived to transport palletised loads in manufacturing facilities. They can be employed in floor-to-floor operations and can typically fulfil lifting requirements up to 2 meters high. There are also automated forklift trucks which are more versatile in nature and can thus be configured to handle heavy payloads, up to 4 ton, or high stocking operations around 8 meters high. Other types of forklift AGVs include reach trucks and Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) trucks, which are both designed to operate in narrow aisles while performing high lifting loading operations. The only difference between the two is that the former is smaller and faster compared to the latter.
Unit Load Vehicles
Unit Load AGVs are self-driving vehicles furnished with roll conveyors, that can navigate swiftly and safely in warehouses and production facilities. They are built to carry one or several unit loads at a time, to and from conveyors, stands, end-of-line equipment (e.g. robots, palletisers) as well as automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS).
An AGV tugger vehicle is motorised and is designed to tow one or more non-motorised carts, either autonomously or both manually and autonomously. Compared to AGCs, towing AGVs have greater throughput as they are capable of transporting several carts at once, similar to a train. Towing AGVs are also equipped with trays that can be lifted, lowered, with motorised rollers, belts etc. to enable automatic load transfer.
Heavy Burden Carriers
For the heaviest loads, heavy burden carriers are a type of AGV used in applications such as large assembly, casting and coil and plate transport. Some heavy burden carriers have self-loading capabilities and may have standard, pivot or omni-directional steering.
Types of AGV Navigation Systems
The AGV is equipped with a rotating laser transmitter and receiver that allows it to detect reflectors mounted in its environment and establish its location with extreme precision. Since they are exceedingly accurate and can allow for product handling to the nearest quarter of a centimeter, they are particularly adapted to medical applications.
The AGV is steered along a ground track embedded into the facility floor, that can be composed of wires, tracks, magnetic lines or cables. The wire transmits a signal that AGVs detect via an antenna or sensor. To implement wire guidance navigation, rails need to be installed. Hence, this navigation system is only recommended for applications that do not require flexibility.
Vision-guided AGVs follow a path painted on the ground that its camera recognises. Cameras record features along the route and AGVs rely on these recorded details to navigate. Compared to wire guidance, the cost for visual guiding is lower as it does not require any special installation work.
Like vision-guided AGVs, no infrastructure modifications are required for AGVS that use geoguidance. Geo-guided AGVs recognises and maps objects in their environment to establish their location in real-time and navigate independently around the facility, without having to adapt infrastructure. This renders high levels of flexibility for warehouses and production sites.
LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)
LiDAR, also referred to as natural navigation, is an advanced navigation technology utilising sensors that transmit laser pulses to measure the distance between the robot and objects in its environment. This data is compiled to create a 360-degree map of the environment, allowing AGVs to navigate the facility and avoid obstacles without the need for additional infrastructure.
5 Questions to help you select the right AGV
With so many variations of AGVs and navigation systems available on the market, it may overwhelm potential adopters. Before diving into a decision, here are some important questions to consider.
Type of Loads
Whether an AGV is required to move light or heavy loads is an important question to answer since different AGVs have unique payloads. For heavy loads, a bespoke AGV may be a better solution.
Type of Navigation
Depending on the environment the AGV will be operating in e.g., wet, cold, interaction with a human operator, the type of navigation system implemented will differ accordingly.
Level of Accuracy
Ensure that your AGVs are equipped with an appropriate level of accuracy to safeguard loads and circumvent potential damage.
Compatibility with Company’s Logistics System
Since an AGV is part of an automated logistics system, it is paramount that it is congruent with the existing logistics system employed by the business such as the warehouse management system (WMS).
You can equip your AGV with detection sensors that will halt its movement when it encounters an obstacle. Sound and visual elements can also be built on.
Frequently Asked Question: AGV vs AMR
Ergo, the choice of an AGV system depends heavily on the task the vehicle is required to execute as well as the complexity of existing or future infrastructure. But are you wondering how do AGVs differ from Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs)? Fret not, as this is a common question asked by prospective adopters of automated solutions. While both technologies optimise material handling and increase the productivity of warehousing facilities, there are differences you should take note of if you are intending to invest in these solutions. To learn more, check out our article here!