The term “AGV systems” refers to automated, or automatic, guided vehicles. AGV systems have increased in popularity to the point that they now have replaced many traditional movement vehicles and solutions that require more labor, such as manually powered push carts, forklift trucks, and conveyor systems.
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Applications of AGV Systems
AGV systems run on industrial batteries or electricity to perform movement solutions within warehouses and facilities. Solutions include material handling, transportation, assembly, delivery and storage; these solutions have applications within most industries, including greenhouse, general manufacturing, plastics and metal, newspaper and mail, automotive, aerospace, food and beverage processing, and packaging.
AGV System Design and Customization
Because they cater to such diverse applications, AGV systems range largely in size and capacity. They go all the way from light load automatic guided vehicles that move small parts and assist in light assembly processes to material handling robots, which are vehicles that can assist with parts kitting and electronic fabrication. In between these extremes are other guided vehicles like tuggers, towing vehicles, forked AGVs, transfer cars, and pallet trucks. Guided vehicles, which operate independently of human control, perform both heavy and light manufacturing processes, including tooling change, trailer loading, and finished product handling. Pallet trucks, for example, can move loads that would prove themselves to be too heavy or too bulky or inconveniently-shaped for efficient manual transportation. Another guided vehicle, the automated guided cart, is capable of moving multiple ton loads at once. They are useful in aerospace applications, where they can transport heavy coils and aircraft parts with relative ease. Self propelled vehicles are another type of AGV system. Using the latest technology, self propelled vehicles can fit into small spaces, work in the same spaces as people, work in aisles, and effectively adapt to changing floor conditions.
How AGV Systems Work
Instead of requiring constant human participation, AGV systems drive themselves, operating according to either a preprogrammed route or an internal navigation system. These two styles of navigation are called fixed path and free range systems, respectively. Fixed path systems rely on a guidance path that has been physically drawn from materials like embedded wire, magnetic tape, paint, or colored tape strips. Automatic guided vehicles that follow fixed paths use antennae and frequencies to help them stay on the prescribed route. While reliable, fixed path systems are becoming less frequent because of the limit they set and the inflexibility they create. Free range systems, on the other hand, do not have this problem because the internal navigation systems of the AGVs they use alert them to expected and help them sense unexpected traffic and obstructions. Knowing what they know, these AGVs can then adjust their paths. In addition to regular autonomous guided vehicles, free range AGV systems may use laser guided vehicles. Laser guided vehicles come equipped with an infrared detection sensor, which increase their ability to sense and gauge their surroundings.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing AGV Systems
The advantages of using AGV systems in a manufacturing plant or warehouse are manifold. First, they are efficient and dependable. They cut down on process time by eliminating stalls caused by traffic jams, collisions, human error, worker fatigue, mandatory break times, and possible human injury. In addition, they are able to work faster than their human counterparts, and they can work around the clock with little operator supervision. These increases in efficiency and decreases in labor costs create a productive operation flow that pays back the high initial costs of AGV systems many times over.
While AGV systems are incredibly beneficial to their users, it is true that they face the potentials of system malfunction or breakdown and physical vehicle injuries caused by collision. While there is not much to be done to prevent computer problems but be diligent, there are ways to reduce harm or keep vehicles from harm altogether. To protect their investment, manufacturers may opt to have their AGV systems customized in one way or another. They may, for example, outfit them with infrared detection sensors that help them sense their surroundings and gauge their movements more accurately. Or, they may add bumpers to their bodies to create a buffer and shield them in the case of an accident. No matter their choice in this regard, manufacturers can count on an excellent investment in AGV systems.
Though incredibly useful, guidance systems, especially free range systems, are complicated and require high levels of thoughtful inputting and preprogramming. Also, to ensure smooth operations, AGV systems usually require monitoring. Especially in large factories or warehouses and/or where multiple AGV systems are in used, a traffic operating systems and controller are very important components. Generally, traffic operating systems consist of locator panels, CRT display and a central logging and report center. With the help of this technology, staff can successfully monitor and track the location and movement of in-house AGV systems and gauge their efficiency, thus avoiding collisions and traffic congestion.