Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are a well-established tool in warehouse and distribution centres. Thanks to greater flexibility, easy programming and lower cost, they could be coming to a manufacturing facility near you, according to Harry Chana, head of automotive automation at Daifuku.
“AGVs started out in the logistics industry as the ‘go to’ automation for relatively simple tasks such as the repetitive movement of goods from one area to another. Over the past five years, thanks to increasingly sophisticated technology, they have moved up the pecking order and are now used within the picking and packing function, typically as part of the FMCG supply chain process.
“This trend is being reflected in the even more demanding area of automotive production, where accuracy and the timeliness of delivery to a specified position is absolutely critical.
“Over the last five years, we’ve seen more major vehicle manufacturers and their original equipment suppliers invest much more seriously in AGVs. And this has most often been at the cost of conveyors.
“Our new generation of AGVs are simple to reprogram, so any changes in production can be accommodated literally overnight. Unlike traditional conveyor systems, AGVs can now be individually monitored so that potential performance issues can be spotted early and fixed before they affect the production line. They are also incredibly flexible when it comes to physical rerouting, as they run on magnetic strips which can be removed and replaced overnight.
“Given the increased sophistication of AGVs, we’re now seeing them interface with robots and control systems to play a much more integrated part within production processes.
“The relatively low cost of AGVs is probably their most obvious attraction to production engineers. We recently completed a project for an automotive manufacturer who saved £60,000 by using AGVs instead of a fixed conveyor system. There’s still an assumption that AGVs are too expensive for a lot of applications, but that is simply not the case any more.
“Finally, given the increasing importance of Industry 4.0 to both logistics and manufacturing, we’re confident that we will continue to see AGV sales increase in the next few years. Their connectivity and data-driven performance makes them the ideal automation tool within a digital manufacturing environment.”