Improve your manufacturing productivity with AGVs

They automate repeatable tasks; customizable and adaptable to changing production lines.

October 24, 2017   by Michael Poeltl

An AGV for a truck outfitter’s assembly plant. Photo: Handling Specialty

Assembly lines have long been equipped with in-floor drag chains or manually pushed carts, but automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are turning up in more manufacturing and assembly operations across several industries to handle repetitive material handling tasks.

These mobile robots navigate the facility by following markers or wires in the floor, or by using vision, magnets or lasers. They’re customizable and adaptable to changing production lines, can be implemented in stages and they save energy.

Although their costs are falling, AGVs are a prohibitive choice for some smaller outfits looking to grow their operations, but there’s an alternative. Manually guided vehicles (MGVs) multi-task across several departments, covering every aspect of a facility’s floor space. An MGV is a less expensive alternative to a forklift. Operators require little training, no licensing, and fitting the units with scissor lifts plus other tooling fixtures covers the same functions.

They’re also a good “walk before your run” step before upgrading to AGVs. MGVs fitted with multiple safety features and options are simple to operate. Ramping up production is accomplished easily by employing more MGVs or upgrading to two or three AGVs.

With Auto-locate and some inhouse training, an operator pre-programs a course for basic, repeatable tasks and changes the programming when required.

When advancing to an AGV, the facility will be reviewed and magnetic tape laid on the plant or warehouse floor.

The continuous line movement navigated by the AGV’s magnetic sensor eliminates the need for an operator and navigating a team of MGVs to do the same work.

Trained pros

An AGV system will require trained professionals to oversee the charging and maintenance of the units. Controls, guidance systems and power technology versus weight distribution varies.

Some points to consider:

• AGVs typically run automatically through a pre-programmed and/or magnetic tape system, but also include a manual option to remove the vehicles from the line for maintenance and charging. This control can either be plugged into the unit, or supplied as a wireless remote system.

• Batteries are part of the design. They’re based on lifecycle and other conditions related to the specific application. For example, if battery weight is 10% of the AGV’s weight, the battery will have to work 10% harder and the unit will run 10% less of the time.

• Additional motion control may be needed. Companies usually request north, south, east and west, but another option called crabbing involves travelling diagonally and rotating 360 degrees in a zero degree radius.

Other factors to consider include vehicle configuration, system simulations, flooring and grading. But the general condition of the facility’s overall features is also key. They include square footage, temperature, humidity, UV sensitivity, floor paints (which may remove conductivity), drains, Wi-Fi, electro-magnetic interference and grounding chains.

Deploying MGVs and AGVs improves safety and productivity, reduces labour costs, and saves energy that’s not used for fixed conveying assets – important factors for manufacturers who are growing their businesses.

Michael Poeltl is the marketing and business development manager for Handling Specialty Manufacturing Ltd. 

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