April 24, 2024

An Introduction to Automated Guided Vehicles

Automated Guided Vehicles or AGVs are unmanned, computer-controlled mobile robots that are used to transport materials around facilities such as warehouses, distribution centers, manufacturing plants and hospitals without the need for human drivers. These autonomous industrial vehicles are programmed to follow wire guidance systems or laser guidance installed in the facility to navigate between points. AGVs enable contactless and hands-free material movement, improving safety, productivity and reducing operational costs.

Advantages of Automated Guided Vehicles

Safety
AGVs eliminate risks associated with manual vehicle operation. Since they operate without drivers, they prevent accidents caused due to human errors like vehicle collisions. Automated navigation also reduces forklift tip-overs which are a major cause of injuries in warehouses. AGVs increase safety by keeping workers away from dangerous factory floor areas.

Efficiency
AGVs work 24/7 without breaks, allowing round-the-clock operations. Their repetitive operations reduce shipment times compared to humans. Automatic path planning of AGVs ensures quickest routes are followed. Increased throughput also leads to higher inventory turnover. AGVs eliminate traffic congestion issues caused by manually driven vehicles.

Accuracy
AGVs precisely follow pre-defined routes and pick/drop locations. With sensor guidance, they can navigate factory layouts with pin-point accuracy. This accurate navigation and coordination eliminates errors caused by human judgement. Access to real-time location data allows accurate inventory counts and material traceability.

Cost Savings
AGVs require less floor space compared to conveyor systems. Their flexible routes reduce new infrastructure costs. Maintenance of AGVs is more efficient than manually driven vehicles requiring frequent repairs. AGVs also lower labor costs by reducing dependency on forklift operators. Overall, their implementation leads to 25-30% savings in operational expenditures.

Types of Automated Guided Vehicle Systems

Wire Guidance
The most common and affordable AGV navigation system uses electromagnetic wire buried in facility floors. AGVs transmit low frequency signals through the wire to identify their location. Any vehicle deviation is immediately detected and corrected. While robust, wire installation requires floor modifications limiting flexibility.

Magnetic Tape Guidance
Similar to wire guidance, magnetic tape places a magnetic strip on floors that emit low frequency signals for navigation. These tapes can be reconfigured easily to change vehicle paths. However, tapes face wear-and-tear issues over time affecting guidance reliability.

Laser Guidance
Laser guidance relies on reflective laser beam emitted from AGVs and reflected off targets placed strategically along routes. Vehicle on-board sensors and processors determine position from beam reflection angle. Laser guidance provides highest accuracy without floor modifications. Upfront costs are higher than wire/tape systems.

Vision & RFID based Guidance
Vision systems use overhead or onboard cameras along with artificial intelligence to follow visual markers or detect coded images on floors. RFID navigates with on-vehicle readers detecting passive RFID tags placed along routes. These non-tethered options offer maximum flexibility but have higher complexity than wired systems.

Uses of Automated Guided Vehicles

Warehousing & Distribution
AGVs are predominantly used in warehouses and distribution centers for transporting unit loads between storage racks and shipping/receiving docks. Their deployment streamlines order picking, replenishment and consolidation processes.

Manufacturing Applications
In manufacturing plants, AGVs are used for ‘intra-logistics’ moving raw materials, components and finished goods between workstations and storage areas. They also handle quality inspection sample shuttling. AGVs eliminate manual forklifts from production floor increasing efficiency.

Hospital Transportation
Hospitals now rely on AGVs for goods like meal delivery, linen and medical supplies transportation between floors. They help reduce transport times and ensure items reach destinations securely. Some advanced AGVs can even transport patients between departments.

Future Applications
With increased payload capacity and intelligence, future AGVs will be utilized for more complex industrial tasks beyond simple material movement. Advanced guidance systems will allow their integration with other technologies like autonomous mobile robots and drones. New application areas include mining sites, seaports and agricultural sector logistics. Wireless power charging capabilities promise to replace physical charging stations. Overall, the adoption of AGVs will continue to accelerate automation across industries.

Benefits of Automated Guided Vehicles for Various Industries

Logistics & Warehousing
Lower operational costs, 24/7 operations, increased inventory accuracy, maximize floor utilization with flexible routes, streamline order fulfillment processes.

Manufacturing
Improved plant safety, optimized material flow with dedicated transport lanes, enable just-in-time production without delays, reduce WIP inventories, accurate traceability of components.

Food Processing
Hygienic contactless transport, prevent cross-contamination, ease comply with strict safety regulations, optimize chill/freeze storage logistics.

Automotive Assembly
Reliable parts delivery between stations, sync with production schedules, enable multi-model assembly, reduce rework due to part shortages.

Healthcare Facilities
Secure sterile transportation, free-up staff for critical tasks, optimize specimen/sample logistics, enable sample tracking from patient to lab.

Conclusion

AGVs  provide a concrete solution to many material handling challenges faced across industries. As industries mature and supply chains grow complex, the benefits of AGVs in improving productivity, efficiency and safety become increasingly pronounced. Ongoing improvements in guidance technologies, network connectivity and vehicle intelligence now allow AGVs to blend seamlessly into smart manufacturing paradigms of the future. Their collaborative nature with workers through advanced safety features also promises a sustainable model of optimized logistics. Widespread adoption indicates AGVs will remain at the forefront of automation revolutionizing supply chain operations globally.

*Note:
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it