Automated Guided Vehicles
Automated guided vehicles, also known as automatic guided vehicles or AGVs, are computer operated, self-powered transportation machines used for applications within the material handling and moving industry. Though they were originally designed to serve only industrial market transportation and lifting, their use is now more widespread. Fields within which they are now used also include: general manufacturing, food and beverage processing, automotive, aerospace, packaging, greenhouse/industrial horticulture, metals and plastics and mail and newspaper.
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Types of Automated Guided Vehicles
There are a lot of vehicles within the automated guided vehicle family, and their design, size and capabilities vary widely based on their intended applications. Different automated guided vehicles are capable of one, some or, potentially, all of the following movements: material sorting, transportation, stowing, delivery or assembly. For instance, simple towing vehicles can perform heavy pallet load transportation, but they cannot do the job of complex material handling robots. Material handling robots can, among other things, be programmed to assist in small product assembly. Or, look at another example, guided vehicles. Guided vehicles are completely independent of human direction and control. They allow for improved operation flow and output in both light and heavy manufacturing processes like finished product handling, tooling change and trailer loading, by providing highly repetitive and reliable actions. Autonomous guided vehicles, which can carry heavy loads over long distances for sustained periods of time without tiring, are becoming increasingly popular around the globe; they are becoming common alternatives to more traditional movement tools like forklifts, manually powered push-pull carts and conventional conveyor systems. Similarly, automated guided carts and larger AGVs can move cumbersome loads from Point A to Point B with relative ease. In fact, they are capable of transporting multi-ton loads that include equipment and materials like large metal coils or aircraft engines. Other models of the automated guided vehicle include tuggers, forked AGVs and transfer cars.
In addition, there are a number of ways in which an automated guided vehicle may be specialized or made more precise for the sake of its application. For one, a vehicle may be outfitted with an infrared detection sensor, which helps it be more aware of its surroundings. Or, it may have a bumper added on to its body in order to shield it in case of an accident. Usually, automated guided vehicles run on industrial batteries, but they may also run on an electric motor or another form of power; power requirements change based on an application.
AGV Guidance Systems
Automated guided vehicle systems either operate with fixed guidance systems or free range systems.
- Fixed Guidance
- Makes use of magnetic tape, colored paint or embedded wire to guide vehicles that respond to antennae, signal emissions and frequencies on simple paths. Fixed guidance systems are reliable and they work well, but they are inflexible and limit the capabilities of their AGVs and they simply may not be well suited to some environments and applications.
- Free Range Guidance
- Fortunately, most automated guided vehicles are not limited by fixed guidance systems. Instead, most contemporary AGV systems are free range. Free range systems are computer-controlled, with onboard microprocessors and supervisory control systems. They are frequently coupled with laser guided vehicles that can follow computerized movement and direction instructions. Also, free range AGVs offer smoother, safer and more flexible operations than fixed guidance AGVs, because they have internal navigation systems that are able to sense obstructions or traffic and redirect the vehicles accordingly.
Traffic Operating Systems
In a large space or facility in which multiple automated guided vehicles are used, a traffic operating system and controller are a must. Traffic operating systems generally come equipped with a central logging and report center, locator panels and CRT display. Together, this technology helps staff monitor and track the movement and location of in-house vehicles. This way, they can keep an eye on operations, avoid collisions, keep traffic running smoothly and gauge their system’s efficiency.
Things to Consider When Choosing AGV
The choice to use AGV systems in a manufacturing facility or in any other material handling and moving capacity is an excellent decision. While the initial costs of an automated guided vehicle system can be daunting, the investment will almost certainly offer a fast return. AGV systems lower labor costs while increasing the overall efficiency of any application. This is especially true for large-scale operations. Vehicles are able to perform traditionally labor-intensive tasks more quickly and carry greater loads than their human counterparts. In this way, they cut down on an immense amount of time spent in operations, as well as reduce the possibility of human error or injury. It is true that an AGV system has the potential to malfunction or break down, causing halts, delays and other issues. However, like its initial costs, the overall benefits offered by an AGV system far outweigh the cost of any hypothetical hiccups.