Equipped with new sensors and smart software, automatic guided vehicles are pursuing and eliminating non-value-added movement of goods in warehouses and DCs.
As the dream of autonomous cars edges closer to reality, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are advancing into the warehouse in a very real way. As the likes of Google and Apple pour resources into the development of driverless technology, the decreased price and improved performance of the vehicles are benefiting the makers of driverless industrial vehicles. Already, Amazon is poised to become one of the biggest users—and suppliers—of automatic guided vehicles in the warehousing and distribution space.
But AGVs aren’t just for those with big budgets and massive operations. In fact, AGVs aren’t even always AGVs. The “guided” part of that acronym, familiar from decades of autonomous vehicles designed to follow magnetic tapes, wires and other fixed paths, is now just one of a growing number of form factors. For the purposes of this story, AGV is an umbrella term including self-driving vehicles, autonomous mobile robots, vision-guided vehicles and more—some of which require no infrastructure to successfully navigate. As these vehicles become increasingly comfortable in dynamic, unstructured environments, these platforms have quickly migrated from manufacturing applications to warehousing supporting manufacturing to pure warehousing and distribution.
“We’re seeing a tremendous amount of interest on both the user and supplier side with lots of new players jumping into this space,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). “We became aware several years ago of a big potential market for AGVs in warehousing, and now it’s really happening. They are opening new opportunities that weren’t even thought of before.”
These vehicles might serve as flexible alternatives to large and expensive conveyor systems, or they might simply take out the trash, but the chances are good that AGVs will become a common sight throughout the supply chain as they target the abundance of non-value-added materials handling.
From there to here
The guidance-dependent AGV tended to be ideal only in large, spacious environments, according to Ed Mullen, vice president of sales for the Americas at Mobile Industrial Robots. With space for dedicated lanes, an AGV was less likely to interrupt—or be interrupted by—any equipment or pedestrians in its area.
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