Automated guided vehicle simplifies material handling

Automatic Guided Vehicle Systems are used to move materials around the facility of a warehouse, factory and shop floor or even on production floor. Prasad Dixit writes how AGVS find its importance in industrial applicationsAn Automated Guided Vehicle or Automatic Guided Vehicle (AGV) is a robot is infused with a mobility feature which follows markers or wires on the floor or uses vision or lasers. They are most often used in industrial applications to move materials around the facility of a warehouse, factory and shop floor or even on production floor.Automatic Guided Vehicle Systems (AGVS) have been in existence since 1953. The AGVS were made to follow a particular track in which a wire in the factory floor was imbedded. The first guidance system was created when sensors on the bottom of a tow truck looked for a magnetic field. The field was created by a current running through a wire or series of wires in the floor.Such were the AGVS until the mid-70s. The advent of solid state controls allowed the systems to expand in capability and flexibility. As a result applications exploded. Its capacity increased from just towing trailers in warehouses to its utilisation in unit load delivery, WIP production systems and automotive assembly systems.As time passes, we witness advancement and evolution of technology in automation. These AGVS are now able to move even without the floor wire, though the wire in the floor is still available for the proper application. Vehicles are now equipped with sophisticated computers and screens on board to communicate, direct and manage the system. New vehicle configurations have also proliferated. The basic AGV towing systems still exists. However, automatic call systems, opportunity charging, automatic loading/unloading, and automatic coupling and uncoupling are now available for the towing application.Common AGV applicationsAGV can be used in a wide variety of applications to transport many different types of material including pallets, rolls, racks, carts and containers. Mostly, AGVS are used in applications to ease repetitive and tedious tasks.Work-in-process movementWork-in-process movement is one of the first applications where automated-guided vehicles were used. It includes the repetitive movement of materials throughout the manufacturing process.Raw material handlingHere, AGVS are used to carry any kind of raw materials such as paper, steel, rubber, metal, plastic etc. This includes transporting materials from receiving to the warehouse and delivering materials directly to production linesPallet handlingAs repetitive movement of pallets is very common in manufacturing and distribution facilities, this AGV became the most effective and popular where it can move pallets from the palletiser to stretch wrapping to the warehouse/storage and/or to the outbound shipping docks.Finished product handlingAGVS are operated with precise controlled navigation and acceleration and deceleration. This minimises the potential for damage, making them an excellent choice for this type of application.Trailer loadingAutomatic loading of trailers is a relatively new application and becoming increasingly popular. AGVS can pick up pallets from conveyors, racking or staging lanes and deliver them into the trailer in the specified loading pattern.AGV typesAGVS Towing Vehicles were the first type introduced and are still a very popular type. Other vehicles are AGVS Unit Load Vehicles to permit unit load transportation and often automatic load transfer: AGVS Pallet Trucks to transport palletised loads to and from floor level, AGVS Fork Truck to service loads both at floor level and on stands, Light Load AGVS to transport small parts, baskets or other light loads though a light manufacturing environment, and AGVS Assembly Line Vehicles to involve serial assembly processes.AGV is truly a new age vehicle which manoeuvres and delivers high performance with extreme intelligent automatic mobility feature. Often, moving goods in factories and shop floors is a very labour-intensive work, which is plagued by errors, inefficiency that cuts profitability. Picking and placing goods in the warehouse can be even more problematic due to varying product size, shape, weight, demand and even seasonality that create real challenges for optimising product slotting as well as prevents from maximising worker efficiency.AGV enables can make all the difference: lowering labour costs, increasing productivity and keeping staff out of danger.In India, there are handful of companies which develop AGVS, and one of them is Fennec Robotics. Fennec Robotics has developed its own AGV-Eskorta. It is a robust AGV solution which not only acts as material handler but also performs and maximises efficiency in the day-to-day tedious, harmful and error-filled functions. They have developed many other AGVS for various industries including milk and poultry. This AGV performs tasks which are over and above just material handling. It has a unique cleaning application which is highly useful in poultries and warehouses, cleaning stains in can, box etc. It works on latest android technology which includes capacity to communicate, working on Wi-Fi, printing documents, scanning, sending emails, generating reports and many such features.Fennec Robotics also offers a variety of AGVS, particularly targeting industrial, agricultural and semi-agricultural fields.Being mobile, this machine overcomes the limitations of stationary robots. One can tug, carry or even push their goods which will be functioned through this AGV. Fennec’s most intelligent feature is its capacity to operate wireless and even automatic. Various mathematical functions and sensors make it possible for the AGV to follow the set destination.For those who wonder how this all happens, here is the answer. There are different mechanisms to drive the vehicle automatically. The most popular method is to follow a marker lines-magnetic type/coloured paint. The lines can be placed wherever the vehicle is required to manoeuvre. An appropriate sensor can be used to detect lines and move accordingly. Equally, the wired systems can also act beneficial for a need depending on the type and intensity of the job. Here too there are intelligent sensors to detect radio frequency transmitted by the wire which enables the AGV to go mobile.Some industries have inter-communicative systems. Here too, the AGV can operate by installing more than one vehicle. These vehicles can self-configurable and self-communicate with each other and the whole exchange of good from one place to another can be automated. For example, consider scenario where AGV is unloading a job from one production line and handing over to other AGV, which is to be moved further into stock. Here, there are two AGVS which are communicating between each other by sending intelligent signals. Likewise, AGVS can be implemented in a plant or can be distributed amongst plants. Such network process may require to control the movements of AGV. This can be achieved using traffic control techniques.In some scenarios, AGVS may require perform operations round the clock. A continuous support of battery is required to perform the operations. To achieve non-stop operations there are various options available to charge the batteries as per the requirement. The new battery sets can be replaced with the existing under used battery sets and such replaced batteries can be attached for charging separately. This process can be performed automatically. In other option, charging docks can be placed at various junctions where AGVs can take a compulsory break to get charged on their own.Some AGVS are even more advance with extra powerful sensors to navigate the vehicle such as laser- and vision-guided mechanisms. These mechanisms can perform 2D or 3D calculations to measure distances and obstacles to localise and navigate the AGV with the help of advance algorithms.In India, Fennec Robotics is working on future advancements which include stereo vision approach where robot can be worked by detecting surrounding objects height, match patterns, detect colour and identif
y depth. It can then set its own path as per set logic accordingly. They can be used according to the surrounding conditions and requirement.AGV market has a potential to lower labour cost while creating new opportunities in numerous industries. It offers a dynamic design solution with modular system elements. It is a very safe, predictable technology that can be easily deployed and get the process running while increasing accuracy and productivity.

                                                                                          Prasad Dixit,Proprietor, Fennec Robotics

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