AGV (Automatic Guided Vehicles)
Technology serves a multitude of functions; making the work that people do easier and eliminating human error are the main aims of most technological advances. AGVs, or automatic guided vehicles, are fast becoming essential to manufacturers and other sectors of heavy industry.
AGVs are vehicles that are guided by a computer rather than a human. They are powered either by a battery or electric motor, and are able to complete many functions in manufacturing, warehousing, and even farming applications. They all but eliminate human error because they are capable of automated operation.
These self-propelled machines have capabilities that range from load transferring, pallet movement and stacking, and even assembly to towing heavy loads. Handling such functions that have traditionally been performed, with great difficulty at times, by people, these self-propelled vehicles not only lower the risks of human error, but injury as well.
AVGs for All Purposes
Developments in automation have resulted in a variety of types of automatic guided vehicles, and have also greatly increased the range of applications for which they can be used. There are three basic types of AVGs, those being the tow type, the fork type, and the heavy load carrier type.
The tow type can be used to pull loads that weigh tons across a warehouse floor. This greatly reduces the hazards associated with moving heavy equipment and finished products by manpower. Typically, these machines are capable of handling anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 pounds from point A to point B. The distance that these machines can carry these loads is dependent upon the tracking abilities of the machine.
The fork type AGV is fitted with a forked lifting mechanism that elevates to retrieve or place materials as well as move and stack pallets. These machines are often utilized for bring materials in and placing them, or retrieving them for shipment. These AGVs can replace the need for experienced lift truck operators who will naturally demand higher pay because of their qualifications.
The heavy carrier automatic guided vehicle is the hulk of the family due to its ability to carry upwards of 250,000 pounds. They are most commonly used in the metal and paper industries to carry coils, ingots, dies, and other materials that are heavy or typically come in very heavy loads.
The unit load type is one that is not as common as the tow, fork, and heavy carrier automatic guided vehicles. It is self-contained and has a loading platform. These machines are normally used to transport totes, pallets, and racks at a rate of about two at a time. While they may not be as equipped for heavy duty, they still save on labor costs that arise from the need to complete transport tasks could be considered menial. While they perform hauling applications that are probably physically possible for a human, they have a greater capacity to tow more in a load, which saves valuable time. Also, these vehicles are commonly programmed for load transferring.
There are smaller AVGs that are more for light duty. These are called commercial or office AVGs. These machines can carry small loads of 500 pounds or less, and are used as automated mail carts in offices. They are also used in areas where cleanliness is paramount, and human presence is undesirable.
AGV Manufacturers – Ward Systems, Inc.
AGV Manufacturers – Savant Automation, Inc.
AGV – America In Motion
AGV – Ward Systems, Inc.
AGV Manufacturers – JBT Corporation
AGV Manufacturers – JBT Corporation
The Benefits of Going Automated
Typically, when a company needs to boost production to meet an increase in demand, they have to hire more people. While hiring people is great and beneficial to the overall economy, there are also real issues that come along with mass hiring, especially in industrial settings. Training, which can take away time and attention from production because the focus of training is to teach new employees how to do the job safely above all else, must be administered. Also, more bodies means a greater risk of human error which can lead to injury and product damage, which are also terrible for your company's bottom line.
Automated vehicles that perform loading, palletizing, towing, and lifting functions all on their own don't need to be trained. There are maintenance costs involved, but it is more cost efficient to keep a machine running than it is to shell out money to cover the living expenses of injured employees or recall compromised products that are a result of someone rushing to get their job done. Factory and warehouse management teams have lost valuable time, products, and people to carelessness, but self guided vehicles only do what they are programmed to do.
Simply put, people are very limited in their physical capabilities, and that is the reason that people have developed technology since the dawn of civilization, to make possible that which previously was not, to make easy that which was previously difficult. For this reason, self-guided vehicles have become increasingly popular in manufacturing applications.
AGV’s are used by airplane builders to tow engines that weigh tons across the facility. In some incarnations, they have replaced conveyor systems for transporting goods across a plant. Some AGVs are fitted with robotic limbs to help them perform functions that require more dexterity than brute strength, such as tooling change out. At every turn, automation mitigates the risks associated with human involvement, making these self-governing machines ideal for day-to-day operation. Food and beverage companies, farmers, car and airplane manufacturers, and even the builders of these automated machines utilize them.
The Beginning of "Driverless" Vehicles
The first automatic guided vehicles were not called that by their creator, Arthur "Mac" Barrett, of Barrett Electronics Corporation. In 1954, when Mac unveiled his Guide-o-Matic, he accurately called it a driverless vehicle, and it is credited with being the first ever AGV. It was a towing machine that followed a signal given off by a wire placed in the ceiling of a facility. Later, the wire was moved underground.
Over time, developers and manufacturers have made improvements on the original idea. Today, AGVs are either laser guided, or follow brightly colored paint on the ground of the route to be travel, embedded wire, and magnetic tape. Machines guided by magnetic tape, paint, or wires have a fixed route that they travel through the warehouse or factory. They are programmed with sensors that pick up the frequencies of the tape or wiring and move accordingly to the feedback received by the unmanned machine. Laser navigation technology allows for more range of operation, and can follow a programmed route while using the laser guidance to detect obstructions and avoid collisions in the warehouse or manufacturing facility.
Many automation enabled vehicles have robotic arms attached to them nowadays, as well. These robotics allow the machine to do not only grunt work, but also make it capable of handling more intricate tasks like assembly and even changing parts on other machines. Such machines are ideal for assembly lines and even order pulling in a distribution center or warehouse.
These machines are not limited to manufacturing applications in today's world of industry; AVGs have found a home in the e-commerce industry as well. There are automatic guided machines that can receive and pull orders for shipment.
Also, manufacturers of AVGs have expanded on the mobility of these unmanned vehicle systems to be able to move from side to side and spin. These seemingly simple upgrades in mobility greatly increase a company's capacity for production.
Common AGV Components
While there are different types of AGVs, there are several components that are in all of these automation enabled machines. They are equipped with traction motors to provide movement, and traction batteries to power the motor. There are many batteries with different capacities, but lithium ion phosphate batteries are very popular for powering AGVs. They have a computer on board, which allows the AGVs to communicate with central control processor and receive instructions. They are also equipped with what is called a payload interface. This is usually either forks, a loading deck, conveyors, or some other such component which is tasked with handling whatever is to externally be acted upon.
Automation requires smart technology. Unmanned machines have to be able to communicate with central to command to carry out orders, but it also must communicate with other AGVs with which it works. The main control system, which is the brains of the operation, sends prompts to the machines on its system, but they still must interact with each other for safety and production efficiency purposes. These machines are therefore on a common network that allows them to recognize and aid or avoid each other using their laser guidance system and the central control system.
There are a lot of hazards to navigate in a factory, warehouse, or distribution center, but AGVs are rightfully decked with safety features as well. They often have lasers to detect and avoid obstructions such as people or other equipment. They also are usually fitted with contact bumpers.
Additional features navigation, traffic, and job control systems. These additional features bolster the safety and efficiency of these vehicle systems. They allow the machine to perform material handle functions and load transfers. They marry tasks with the route that is necessary to perform the task and much more.
Benefits of Implementing Automated Vehicle Systems
Automatic guided vehicles can greatly enhance the efficiency of operation of a warehouse, factory, distribution center, or other industrial facility, and cut costs while doing so. With the right equipment, a boost in production won't automatically necessitate a need to boost the workforce.
For instance, a fork type vehicle system can perform all of the same functions as a man with a forklift or pallet truck. With one piece of equipment, the work capacity of a man and two pieces of equipment can be matched and even surpassed, safely. An AGV won't need a month, a week, or even a day to master the functions it is to perform. From the moment an AGV is employed in the day-to-day operations of a warehouse, it is ready to start paying for itself by the manpower that it cuts, the time it saves, and the risks that it won't take.
The closest thing that the machine will need to acclamation is programming. The guidance system will have to be calibrated to the routes that the machine will cover, and it will have to be programmed for handling the functions of the facility in which it is to operate, as the machine is guided by a central control system, but it won't require you to redirect the focus of experienced employees from production to supervising newcomers. Cost efficiency and risk management are stalwarts of profitable industry, which is why AGVs have only become more popular since they first hit the market over 60 years ago.
Whether the setting is a warehouse, distribution center, or factory will go a long way towards deciding what machine and manufacturer are right for you. Your choice must be guided by the needs of your individual facility, and the right manufacturer will look to suit your needs, specifically. There is no one solution for all companies, and while there are plenty of good manufacturers out there, the goal should be to choose the right one for your company. The place to start would be to determine what needs you have that an AGV could deliver on. Once you know what you need out of the equipment, the goal should be to find that piece at a price that is within your budget, from a manufacturer with a good reputation and an understanding of your needs.
Questions that Arise while Considering the Purchase of Automated Guided Vehicles
Businesses, big or small, are always confronted with difficult choices while making investments for acquiring new assets or adopting new technology. When it comes to adopting automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), the decision becomes even more difficult, as the cost of each unit is substantial and you need to make changes to infrastructure to accommodate drones.
To make that decision easier, we have compiled some questions that arise and answers from experts.
Q1. What are the primary challenges or problems that owners face with the adoption of automation equipment?
Answer: The prices of components used in guided vehicles are significantly high. The costs may come down with increased adoption of the technology; however, given the high-cost of design and development of sensors and processors, it seems, the industry will take some time to produce equipment that will be more economical. However, some new economical designs and models are available that have multiple application and can work in dynamic environment, giving good return on investment.
Q2. What are the newer technologies that have come out in the field that can be a game changer?
Answer: Huge investments in passive machine vision are coming to fruition. The technology will eliminate or reduce reliance on expensive laser guided vehicles.
Q3. What are the most exciting new developments in self-guided vehicle transit?
Answer: Driverless automobiles, by Tesla and Google, and driverless supply trucks.
Q5. Where the autonomous vehicle technology will be in next 5-10 years?
Answer: A report titled "Automated Guided Vehicle Market by Type (Unit Load Carrier, Tow Vehicle, Pallet Truck, Assembly Line Vehicle), Industry Vertical (Automotive, & Others), Application (Transportation, Distribution, & Others), & Geography - Global Forecast to 2020," published by ReportsnReports.com, has predicted that the automated guided vehicles are expected to grow at a great pace in most regions of the world, due to growing investment all across major industries. The benefits of AGV systems and their adoption by major industries have encouraged investments; soon guided vehicles will be a norm.
automatic guided vehicles.
- are moving robots used in various industrial applications.
- consist of the computer, software
and technology that are the “brains” behind
the AGV. Without computer software systems and communications networks,
only the simplest AGV functions can be performed.
or ATVs, are robots used in industrial settings.
are used when precise guidance accuracy is needed, such as in crowded
environments and smaller sized facilities. An on-board
camera focuses and guides the AGV while performing.
- are used to pick up and deliver various loads, such as
pallets, carts, rolls and others. These can be manually driven as well
as used automatically, and have the ability to lift loads to many levels.
- use a magnet sensing
device, a gyroscope that measures the unit’s heading and a
wheel odometer that calculates the distance traveled. Magnets mounted
beneath the floor are detected
by the on-board magnetic sensing device and combine with the first
two readings to give an accurate positional location.
- are used to transport heavier loads with
various transfer devices such as rollerbeds, lift/lower mechanisms
and custom mechanisms.
- use mounted laser scanners
that emit a laser and reflect back from targets. The vehicle’s
location can be determined based on distance to the target and time
of reflection information.
a latex-based photosensitive tape on a facility’s
floor for guidance. Distance is measured by use of wheel odometers,
which establish stop locations for the AGV along the course.
- have two horizontal stabilizing legs (outriggers)
to provide lateral support, and are used to handle pallets, rolls and
- are able to maneuver through crowded workplaces
through laser sensing, while transporting smaller loads.
capable of determining their own traffic control and routing without
necessitating a central controller.
used to pull trailers and are usually manned by an operator who adds
and removes the trailers at designated
can follow a basic loop or a more complicated path.
- use a charged wire that is
buried beneath the floor for proper guidance and has a small antennae
metal coils mounted on their bottoms. The stronger the field between
wire and antennae, the higher the voltage induced to the
– A control on
the sound and volume of the AGV that alerts the surrounding area when
it is in motion.
– A type of traffic control performed by
the AGV using detection sensors that allow for one vehicle to slow or
stop, then resume motion once there is a safe gap between machines. The
sensor housing on the AGV detects stopped and slower vehicles in front
of and behind it en route.
– Used for wireless
communication that gives the AGV instructions and information about traffic
– An AGV’s battery recharge without the
removal of the battery itself. A copper plate in the floor makes contact
the conductor of an AGV overhead, activating a charge, and the AGV departs
once charging is complete.
– Displays information necessary
to operating the AGV system and keeps it operating efficiently.
– A device with
a joystick designed to manually operate the AGV as needed.
– The process of relocating or stocking
materials using an automated device such as an AGV.
– A device on some AGVs
that allows them to grab circular or cylindrical objects such as barrels
and place them wherever needed.
– Unit commands within the AGV system such as where
to go, when to start, slow down and stop. Within most AGV systems, the
basic communication methods are infrared, radio, guide wire data and
– Marks on the floor indicating where the AGV is supposed
to stop or change direction.
– AGV dispatch
that occurs from a nearby source, used for simpler systems. Onboard sensors,
keys and data couplers are
all examples of local dispatching controls.
– Wheels that, in addition to allowing
the vehicle to move forward and back, are capable of moving sideways
– The means by which
an AGV determines its calculated position and stop points. Laser, optical,
wire, camera and inertial systems
are types of navigation.
– A device that records the distance traveled. Wheel odometers
are often implemented on AGVs to determine position and speed.
– An ultrasonic sensor on an AGV that allows the
vehicle to slow down or stop when faced with an obstruction.
– A navigation system
that allows an AGV to select from a large number of pathways. Open path
systems are useful in crowded warehouses
and smaller facilities.
– When the battery of the AGV supplies power to
pickup and delivery stations, to make additional wiring unnecessary.
– A means
of communication that involves a central controller dispatching information
to the AGVs. Remote dispatching can
be done through an RF network (broadband or wired) or infrared communication.
– Usually a detection
sensor, designed to detect obstructions in front of and behind the AGV.
of the entire AGV system, including hours of runtime, transaction queue(s)
and parts and service records.
– A function of certain
AGVs that serves to pull or tow multiple items. Tug/tow AGVs are useful
for moving wheeled products such
as shopping carts.
of AGVs and their individual components. Common vehicle monitoring examples
are vehicle runtime, battery status
and error logs.
– Lights on an AGV
that flash in the direction of travel during an operation.
– A preventative
method controlled by an AGV system controller. Sections of guide
path that have zone blocking allow only one AGV to be in a particular
zone at one time.