A forklift truck is an electrical or gas powered industrial piece of equipment with a metal fork platform attached to its front that can be used to lift heavy loads by inserting the fork platform under cargo, pallets, or...
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This article contains an in depth look at AGV forklifts and their use.
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An AGV forklift is a driverless self-operating robotic device that has the ability to carry, lift, retrieve, and place loads for easy transfer from one location to another. An automatic guided vehicle (AGV) forklift is a computer controlled mechanism that performs a series of functions without the interference or guidance of a human. They are part of a complex and complicated technical system that is composed of computer programming, robotics, and peripherals.
AGV forklifts are capable of handling a variety of load sizes for pickup and drop off from the floor and elevations such as conveyor systems and storage racks. They include counterbalance and outrigger designs with load capacities as high as 10,000 lbs or higher. There are a variety of guidance systems used on AGV forklifts, including laser guided vehicle (LGV) systems, magnetic tape, natural navigation, and magnetic spots. The key to the success of an AGV forklift is choosing the navigation system to fit the application’s needs.
As robotic devices, AGV forklifts move freely and unhampered from location to location in a series of programmed maneuvers. Though it may seem that they are moving independently, for every AGV forklift, there is a guiding navigation system that determines their path from which they are unable to vary.
The guided lights or strips for AGV forklifts are not common to all AGV vehicles since technological advancements are rapidly improving and changing. In the case of forklifts and their functions, navigation systems are necessary and keep the forklift within a set of safety parameters.
A LGV navigation system uses laser positioning and is the most popular system. The forklift has a navigation laser located on top of a pole on top of the forklift that interacts with targets strategically placed in the work area. The laser sends rotating arrays in a 360o pattern. The targets for the laser are reflector tape or cylinders around 20 inches high that are positioned on columns, walls, or poles in a facility.
The reflectors send the laser array signals used by the navigation device. Three array feedbacks are necessary for position calculations and use a highly complex and intricate algorithmic formula. Positioning corrections are made 30 to 40 times per second to keep the forklift in the correct trajectory. The calculations made by the navigation system are incredibly accurate.
The reason for the popularity of a laser guided navigation system is how easy it is to install. Manufacturers rapidly install reflectors, simulate AGV paths, and define AGV routes with little effort. The system does not require wire or tape on the floor or location devices beneath the surface of the floor.
With the use of magnetic tape, AGV forklifts are equipped with magnetic sensors to follow a defined track that is made by magnetic tape that has been placed on the floor of the facility. To ensure proper adhesion, high bond tape is used for laying the track, which is 1 mm thick and 5 cm wide. The dimensions of the tape are to keep the tape from being invasive to the operation of the AGV forklift.
The determination of what directions for the AGV forklift to go is decided by radio frequency identification (rfid) tags, which is a wireless system that consists of tags and readers. The positioning of these tags allows the AGV to decide whether to go left, stop, engage a trolley, or turn right.
Flexibility is lacking with magnetic tape since AGV forklifts are limited to a well defined route that is unalterable unless the tape is moved. It is a low cost system that is easy to install and modify. The installation of magnetic tape does not require any adjustments or changes to infrastructure. Positioning is highly accurate with reliable tolerances within ± 2 mm.
There are a wide variety of natural navigation systems since manufacturers can buy from navigation suppliers or develop their own versions. The most common of the natural navigation forms is simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), which is able to map its work environment and localize where it is due to receiving information from its surroundings.
The mapping process is similar to that used by an AGV automobile that includes vision cameras, lidar sensors, and lasers. The accumulated information is fed into the internal inertial measurement unit (IMU) to define and recalculate AGV forklift positioning. As with laser technology, the calculation process uses complicated and complex algorithms that are called SLAM.
The initial process for natural navigation involves driving the forklift along its route. As it travels, the navigation system maps its surroundings to create a reference map for when it travels the route on its own. It is also possible to download maps into the system using AutoCAD or other forms of mapping technology. Downloaded maps and accumulated data from mapping the surroundings are matched to define the initial coordinates.
After the data acquisition, the AGV forklift will drive a practice route to check if what it is seeing is the same as the downloaded material enabling it to define its position. All of the data is combined with odometric measurements. SLAM technology is constantly being perfected by manufacturers and is a vital part of self driven automobiles.
Natural navigation makes it possible to expand existing systems using various forms of navigation technologies.
Although magnetic spots may seem similar to magnetic tape, they are more stable than magnetic tape and require specialized installation. Magnetic spots are cylindrical spots that are embedded in the floor of the facility. The cylinders are approximately 20 mm by 10 mm and are spaced at every 250 mm to 500 mm or about 15 feet apart. The AGV forklift moves from one spot to the next using sensors and controls such as encoders, counters, and gyro sensors to calibrate against steering angle errors.
Prior to implementation, a CAD map is loaded into the AGV forklift that is used with the magnetic spots as a reference for its navigation. Positioning tolerances are at 2.5 mm, which is far better than SLAM or LIDAR. Installation requires drilling a small hole in the floor to position the magnetic spots.
The two benefits of magnetic spots are extremely accurate positioning and no maintenance since there isn’t any wear on the mechanism’s path.
Wire guided technology is the most invasive form of automated forklift since it requires cutting a channel in the floor of the facility to install a conductive wire. The wire sends out a radio signal that the AGV forklift detects and follows. As with magnetic tape and magnetic spots, the wire establishes the route of an AGV or automatic forklift. Unlike magnetic tape and magnetic spots, changing or adjusting the route requires substantial effort.
The benefit of a wire guided system is its very low maintenance since there is no wear on the wire and includes very low tolerance. Wire guided systems were the first of the AGV automatic vehicle systems founded in 1953 by A. M. Barret Jr. The initial wire guided system was hung from the ceiling, which was later changed to placing the wire in the floor.
A wire guided system allows the AGV forklift to acquire the guide path. It is then steered toward the path automatically from angles up to 70o. Although wire guided systems are useful for AGV forklifts, they can accommodate any form of AGV with the proper instrumentation.
The work of an automated guided forklift requires different types of lifting mechanisms to fit the needs of a warehouse or supply center. A major factor in determining the type of AGV forklift is the weight of the loads since each model of AGV has a different capacity. The main and primary function of AGV forklifts is the streamlining of material handling and being able to lift and move otherwise awkward or bulk loads.
The popularity of AGV forklifts is due to their errorless and flawless performance. When human pickers pull materials from shelves, they tend to make errors in judgment and grab the wrong product. Although such errors are easily corrected, they add time to the process.
Since their introduction over sixty years ago, AGV forklifts have provided error free movement of materials and supplies, providing smooth and effortless completion of supply chain processes. Their use has significantly enhanced the efficiency of warehousing.
A pallet mover AGV, or fork over AGV, is a pallet device for transporting pallet loads. They are a method for replacing the use of pallet jackets since they can more efficiently move loaded pallets from one location to another without interrupting the workflow. The design of a pallet mover is similar to that of a pallet jack and has the same limitations, regarding vertical movement.
Stabilizers placed beneath the forks of a pallet mover reduce the dimensions of the AGV, its weight, and tighten its turning radius, which allows for greater maneuverability. The under fork stabilizers limit the use of pallet movers to single faced pallets that do not have a base framework.
For movement of double faced pallets, counterbalanced and outrigger AGV forklifts are the best choice.
AGV forklift pallet stackers have the same function as a pallet mover without the limitations of vertical movement and weight capacity. A high performance AGV forklift pallet stacker can lift over a ton several feet onto a pallet rack. They have a functionality similar to a forklift without the special features of an AGV forklift.
A counterbalanced AGV forklift has high payload capacity by counterbalancing the weight of their load. The counterbalance weight is in the form of added cast iron or a battery pack at the rear of the AGV forklift. Aside from their high payload capacity, counterbalanced AGV forklifts can reach greater heights than pallet stackers regardless of the weight of their load.
The main processes where counterbalanced AGV forklifts are used include shipping and receiving operations and moving stored items to and from storage locations. To meet the needs of their lifting capacity, counterbalanced AGV forklifts are larger and bulkier requiring a larger turning radius.
Straddle AGV forklifts are an outrigger form of AGV forklift with a high payload and stacking ability as well as a smaller footprint. They have stabilizing legs that are located outside and parallel to the lifting forks, which gives them the ability to lift heavier and bulkier loads. The stabilizing legs are sufficiently wide to avoid interference with the width of the load.
In comparison to counterbalanced AGV forklifts, straddle AGV forklifts are more maneuverable and require less space. The added legs enhance the stability of the load during lifting and movement. Straddle AGV forklifts are capable of moving through narrow aisles and cramped spaces, which makes them an ideal choice for warehousing and tightly packed materials.
Part of the versatility of straddle AGV forklifts is their ability to load conveyors, racking, and trucks. The wide mobility of straddle AGV forklifts makes it necessary for them to have a laser guidance system.
VNA AGV forklifts are an efficient method for performing lifting tasks in large and high volume warehouses. The forks on a VNA AGV forklift are mounted on their side and extend outward from the side. This design allows them to travel very narrow and restrictive pathways.
The versatility of VNA AGV forklifts allows them to have an all-round operation mode to be able to move forward, backward, turn, spin, do lateral shifting, and drift. They have the ability to meet the needs of a wide variety of applications and performance requirements. VNA AGV forklifts are considered to be the most efficient of the AGV forklift types due to their exceptional transportation performance.
All of the many positive features of VNA AGV forklifts come at a high price. The investment is justified by their performance, which is highly efficient and time saving.
VNA AGV forklifts are designed to work in warehouses with aisles narrower than 78 inches and be able to place pallets at heights of 36 feet.
AGV reach forklifts are constructed to work in narrow aisle warehouses and have outer legs for extra load support that are similar to straddle AGV forklifts. The mast on an AGV reach forklift extends the forks outside the vehicle’s footprint, which improves its maneuverability. One of the benefits of reach AGV forklifts or trucks is their ability to work with double deck pallets.
A clamp type AGV forklift has an unusual and unique structure without the traditional forks of a forklift. Their design is for the movement of heavy round objects such as reels and rolls of metals. A laser positioning device ensures the proper positioning of the load to avoid damage or mishandling. Clamps can be similar to a forklift and lift the load or be engineered to grab a load such as a vertically positioned roll of paper.
Clamp AGV forklifts are capable of lifting loads that are 84 inches in diameter over 250 inches from the floor. Load capacities range up to 3000 lbs. with the ability to clamp more than one roll at a time. The wheels of clamp AGV forklifts are made of high quality polyurethane to be able to handle the heavy loads.
The ability of AGV forklifts to deliver raw materials and supplies consistently, reliably, and efficiently without the need of human intervention has been the major factor in their growing use. The implementation of an AGV forklift system allows workers to concentrate on their main function without the interruption of the need to use a forklift or pallet jack to get supplies.
Aside from their function as a means of obtaining supplies, AGV forklifts can be used for work in progress applications and the storing of completed products. As a part of their work in progress function, they can work as a conveyor system and move unfinished components from one workstation to another, which assists in the efficiency and timing of an operation.
The efficiency and versatility of AGV forklifts have made them an irreplaceable asset for automotive production. Their main function is as just in time parts supplying for chassis production, engine and gearbox assemblies, and pre-production staging.
The handling of raw material for food production requires exceptionally sensitive processing equipment that will not contaminate the material. Most of the supplies for food preparation can be negatively impacted by human handling. AGV forklifts are an ideal solution since they will not come in contact with the raw materials.
The variety of activities for AGV forklifts involves moving baking trays between ovens and the production lines or the movement of containers to and from storage. Additionally, AGV forklifts are important for moving raw and finished products to shelving systems at various heights in warehouses.
With the increasing demand for freshness and convenience, AGV forklifts have become an essential part of improving the efficiency of the supply chain to meet the needs of retailers. The versatility and agility of AGV forklifts make it possible to shift production needs quickly and smoothly avoiding the need for advanced logistical planning.
The movement of paper rolls for printing is a serious and unsafe activity that requires time and accuracy. The huge rolls of paper used for the production of pamphlets, advertisements, and other literature must be perfectly positioned and placed to be aligned with the feeding mechanism of the printing press. In the past, the operation was performed by a crew of workers using various types of lifting devices.
With the advent of AGV forklifts, the process of loading paper rolls is completed quickly, efficiently, and accurately without the need of human intervention. Rolls are selected in paper storage, picked up on V blocks, and moved to the pressroom where they are perfectly positioned for loading and use. The addition of these automated forklifts has taken the danger out of the placement of paper rolls.
When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, they moved in a straight line with stations on the line that added one component at a time. As revolutionary as it was for its time, assembly operations have radically changed over the years and no longer follow the single line design due to the technical nature of each step of the process.
In recent years, AGV forklifts have been used to replace antiquated chain drives, mats, and conveyors for a more efficient and robust movement of in process items. The implementation of AGV forklifts in assembly operations opens the door to an unlimited number of possibilities for product assembly.
The use of AGV forklifts eliminates the need to construct physical structures like floor chains, moving mats, conveyors, and overhead cranes, which require installation, facility adjustments, and space. AGV forklifts can be implemented and put to use in less time and perform more efficiently than traditional assembly methods. Delays related to lack of supplies, poor unfinished product movement, and other factors are eliminated.
The advantages of using AGV forklifts for assembly lines include flexibility to alter and change paths, scalability to change output, and quick and easy shifting of routes and locations or adding extra stages.
Of the many uses for AGV forklifts, warehousing makes the greatest use since AGV forklifts eliminate many unnecessary steps in the picking, loading, placing, and cataloging of materials. The use of AGV forklifts radically reduces the misplacement of items and improves inventory control. Human errors and handling are cut to a minimum to ensure proper racking and material locating.
Errors in inventory control are directly related to human error. Though a rack may be designated as the location for a product, a person may misplace it by going down the wrong aisle or putting the product in a bin next to its computer location. These types of misjudgments are not possible with AGV forklifts that precisely follow their programming.
The use of AGV forklifts makes it possible for workers to complete their work faster, easier, with less effort, and far more accurately. Their use removes much of the unproductive work of hunting for materials and walking to find materials. Above all, AGV forklifts improve the safety of the workplace and make it more ergonomic, which helps in worker retention and effectiveness.
From the manufacturing of packaging to its use in the production of products, AGV forklifts play a major role in the packaging industry. There is a wide assortment of types of packaging that necessitate handling. Included in the various kinds are pallets, cans, bottles, labels, slip sheets, cardboard products, lids, and wrappers to name a few. When being put to use, packaging materials come in bulk sizes of several hundred to several thousand depending on the type of product. The handling of such weights and quantities is an ideal situation for AGV forklifts.
The functions of AGV forklifts include delivering materials to the production line and removing completed products for storage or shipping. When shipping is required, AGV forklifts are capable of loading trucks safely and efficiently.
The demand for frozen products is rapidly increasing, which has increased the need for deep freeze warehousing. Although deep freeze warehousing is not unusual, it offers several challenges for operators since temperatures are normally below -18o F exposing workers and equipment to extreme and hostile conditions that are risky and unsafe.
Statistically, it has been found that manually operated sub zero warehouses have higher incidences of product damage, improper product rotation, and poor product time fulfillment that negatively affect productivity and profits. Additionally, forklifts for deep freeze warehouses require more maintenance due to the low temperatures. All of these conditions have led to higher than average personnel turnover.
A solution to the problems of deep freeze warehousing is the use of AGV forklifts, which improves product identification and rotation. Unlike traditional forklifts, AGV forklifts are more energy efficient since workers are not constantly opening and closing freezer doors.
The initial installation of an AGV forklift system is expensive. Cost savings is seen in the energy savings and the elimination of worker turnover and sick time.
The rapid development of AGV forklifts is directly in line with the technological expansion and use of computers. AGV forklifts operate on sophisticated and complex algorithms that map their routes and ensure their proper performance. It is very likely that AGV forklifts will continue to have an impact on production, warehousing, assembly, and manufacturing operations as more efficient and economical methods are researched and innovated.
The efficiency of an AGV forklift system guarantees a steady and even flow of materials from and to locations. This aspect of their use eliminates concerns regarding production stoppage or lack of raw materials. The programming and control of AGV forklifts makes them capable of constantly running without the need for maintenance.
Part of the improvement of flow is related to the ability of AGV forklifts to perform multiple complex repetitive tasks self sufficiently and perfectly. Palletizing, loading, and transport are rapidly and easily completed.
Every AGV forklift is monitored by a sophisticated computer system that maps its path and coordinates its workload. At any instance in time, it is possible to immediately identify the location of an AGV forklift and what it is carrying or going to carry.
Safety and security are two of the major factors that led executives to institute the use of AGV forklifts. Since they are programmed to follow a predetermined path, it is highly unlikely that they would run into workers, damage walls, or interfere with other operations. Under human operated systems, there is always the potential of failure and damage due to human error. This is not possible with AGV forklifts.
Response time by AGV forklifts is greatly improved since they are programmed to complete simple tasks in a specified amount of time. The programming of AGV forklifts prevents them from varying how they move, and the amount of time required to complete a task.
One of the paradigms of business is continual and ceaseless growth. As products become popular while others fade, it is necessary to shift focus and move in new directions. These attributes of business require changes in processes and operations. AGV forklifts are versatile and adaptable to be able to be changed, programmed, and repositioned to meet any possible conditions required by a growing and successful business.
The use of AGV forklifts eliminates the costs, on average, of two forklift drivers or three if a company operates 24 hours. Additional cost savings is the lowered amount of energy necessary to operate an AGV forklift compared to a manually driven one. The implementation and installation of an AGV forklift system can be done easily with very little disruption of normal company operations.
One of the more frustrating aspects of running a business is control of logistics and inventory, which seem to be the constant source of resource losses. The major culprit in this problem is human error where products are miscounted, inappropriately placed, lost, or simply overlooked. Depending on how many times a year an inventory is completed, it is commonly accepted that there will be a variance between what is in the system and what is on the shelves.
With the implementation of an AGV forklift system, such errors are drastically diminished or completely absolved. The programmed nature of AGV forklifts prevents them from placing products incorrectly or misplacing them. Since there is a direct link between the AGV forklift system and the company’s system, product counts are accurate and monitored electronically without human interference.
A forklift truck is an electrical or gas powered industrial piece of equipment with a metal fork platform attached to its front that can be used to lift heavy loads by inserting the fork platform under cargo, pallets, or...
A pallet stacker is a machine designed to assist the user in lifting, moving and handling palletized materials with ease. A pallet itself is a flat and horizontal structure used to support goods in a sturdy fashion...
Automated guided vehicles (AGV) or mobile robots are types of guided robotic systems that are not bounded by a fixed range of motion. Rather, it is self-contained and can move along a line, surface, or space...
In 1954, when Arthur "Mac" Barrett, of Barrett Electronics Corporation, unveiled the first AGV, he named it Guide-o-Matic and described it as a driverless vehicle...
A pallet rack is an upright structure made of steel framing with beams and connectors that are bolted, welded, or clipped together to form a shelving unit to store inventory and equipment. In warehousing, pallet racks are...
A palletizer is an automated material handling machine used to stack and orient several individual products into a single load for a more convenient and economical method of handling, storage, and shipment. Palletizers are usually part of a bigger packaging process...
A robotic palletizer is a type of palletizer that employs a robotic arm to pick, orient, and place individual products and arrange them into a single stack of load. They are the next generation of palletizers, and they will supersede conventional palletizers...
Storage rack, also known as racking, is a structure that stores items and materials and comprises at least two upright (vertical) frames, horizontal beams, and some sort of decking (bars, panels, meshes, or none)...
Warehouse racking, also known as storage or pallet racking, is a material handling system suitable for mass storage of goods unitized on skids or pallets. It allows efficient utilization of space while providing easy access to stockpiled items for better inventory control...