What is an Automated Guided Vehicle?
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are driverless vehicles capable of automating various transport and material handling tasks across manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, and logistics industries.
Individual AGVs operate within a larger AGV system, which includes material handling software solutions that allow AGVs to maneuver and function. Guidance technology includes elements for AGV navigation, load handling, safety, communication, and traffic control, which vary according to type and use case.
What are the Benefits of AGVs?
The benefits of AGVs can give your company an edge over the competition. By safely automating manual material handling retrieval and transportation. AGVs can reduce labor needs, removing opportunities for human error, improving working conditions, and ultimately helping reduce overhead, preserve margins and increased throughput.
AGVs serve as automated material handling across inbound, outbound, and everything in between to improve productivity and safety. They perform various transport tasks, moving individual items, totes, or pallets to and from storage or in between processes. In warehousing and manufacturing settings, this offers a number of advantages:
- Labor cost savings: Reduces manual labor for transport or vehicle operation, freeing up workers for value-added tasks.
- High efficiency and precision: Increase energy efficiency, reliability, and the level of precision in load handling.
- 24/7 operations: Extends operational hours and enables lights-out operations or the addition of extra shifts.
- Increased safety: Minimizes accidents and injuries, leading to reduced costs and less operational downtime.
- Improved working conditions: AGVs can operate in temperature-controlled or hazardous environments so that workers don’t have to.
- Reduced production costs: Lower operating expenses and increased efficiency help preserve margins while reducing product scrap associated with manual handling errors.
- Ease of modification and expansion: Modular capabilities make AGVs a high-value, easy-to-implement introductory step into automation. AGV use supports improved layout and workflow automation, creating deviations for quality checks, product customizations, and other operational flexibility that paves the way for continued growth and iterations.
AGV technology needs to be incredibly safe and reliable, offering multiple safety features and satisfying all ANSI/ITSDF safety and ISO 3691-4 manufacturing standards. AGVs often function in close proximity to human workers and may even interface directly with them in goods-to-person material flows. Thus, system features must offer active and passive characteristics to protect people and property in the facility and effectively integrate into your working environment. . Safe handling also prevents material and productivity loss due to transit damage and is less error-prone than manually operated machines. For example, manual forklifts are some of the most dangerous operated vehicles in many warehousing settings and were the source of 79 work-related deaths and 8,140 injuries resulting in days away from work in 2019. Fork-style AGVs (also known as driverless forklifts) protect workers and preserve productivity, preventing lost time and unexpected operations costs due to injury or absence.
These operational breakthroughs are made possible by many layers of active and passive safety features. Active safety features allow AGVs to respond to the surrounding environment, and include laser scans, collision avoidance systems, emergency stop buttons, detection sensors, and other measures depending on the application and AGV configuration. Passive safety features are built-in and generally static or unchanging, and include warning lights, audible warning and alarm signals, and signs on vehicles or in the facility.
Types of AGV Navigation Systems
AGV navigation systems allow users to customize and integrate AGV systems to their needs. Aside from increasing productivity, AGV navigation also improves safety and can reduce the likelihood of automated vehicle accidents.
Navigation type is a major differentiator between AGV systems. Navigation technology influences an AGV system’s overall performance and utility. While high-tech navigation options like laser guidance are capable of greater precision and flexibility than their lower-tech counterparts, less expensive options such as tape or magnetic guidance can be an economic alternative.
- LASER GUIDANCE: Laser sensors interact with reflective targets on the vehicle’s path. The guidance can support multiple paths, increasing flexibility and changing as needed.
- CONTOUR/NATURAL FEATURED GUIDANCE: Laser scanning technology detects obstacles and structures. These systems may be used without additional infrastructure or along with reflective targets.
- SLAM (SIMULTANEOUS LOCALIZATION AND MAPPING): In these smart navigation systems, AGVs receive input from a variety of sensors, while software algorithms calculate position—to and simultaneously map unknown environments and understand their positions.
- VISION GUIDANCE: Stereoscopic cameras act as 3-D “eyes” to detect the environment in real time. Vision guidance is high-end, navigating an unlimited number of paths that adapt to the surrounding environment in real time, increasing efficiency and saving time during complex transports.
- QR CODE GUIDANCE: QR codes are placed in a grid pattern on the floor and the vehicle scans each code to move along a predetermined path.AGVs scan their environment for barcodes, helpful for retrieving barcoded goods in a warehouse or storage setting.
- INDUCTIVE (WIRE) GUIDANCE: Wires embedded in the floor emit radio signals that the AGVs follow. An affordable way to achieve high path accuracy, but with less flexibility than other methods.
- MAGNETIC TAPE GUIDANCE: Magnetic tape affixed to the floor marks the AGV’s path, allowing for easier to installation and path changes than wire guidance.
- MAGNET SPOT/INERTIAL GUIDANCE: Small magnets are used as navigation beacons. The spots are more durable and easier to reconfigure than tape guidance.
Types of AGVs
AGVs are available in many different base configurations capable of performing a wide variety of retrieve and transport functions in various types of facilities. The following five types are among the most broadly beneficial and cost-effective for the widest range of manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics facilities. Read more about popular AGV types here [link to new blog when available].
Unit Load AGVs
Unit load AGVs, sometimes known as top carriers or unit load decks, are designed to transport discreet loads to and from fixed conveyors, stands, or automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). The top deck of a unit load AGV is fitted with a conveyor, lift, or other shuttle mechanism to easily move loads on and off the deck.
AGV forklifts, also known as driverless forklifts, unmanned forklifts, or robotic forklifts, perform standard floor to high rack pallet-moving tasks as a manned forklift does without the need for a vehicle operator.
Very Narrow Aisle (VNA) AGVs
VNA AGVs are autonomous versions of VNA trucks, designed to maneuver within the narrow aisles seen in high-density storage and other areas where every inch of the footprint is maximized.
Tugger AGVs can pull single or multiple loads via trailer or cart. They are generally best suited for high-capacity bulk goods delivery. They can be loaded either automatically or manually via an actuated hitch.
Muratec AGV Solutions
Murata Machinery USA is a leading AGV manufacturer and sole U.S. provider of Muratec Group AGV solutions. Explore our portfolio or contact us with questions.
AGVE A Series AGVs
The A Series is one of the most comprehensive, versatile AGV lines available, with seven different base configurations ranging from compact carriers to heavy-duty rigs capable of transporting up to 11,000 lbs. Select a model based on your load size, space, and lift height and customize it to your load handling, navigation, efficiency, and production needs. Unit load, fork-style, towing, and VNA configurations available. Learn more about AGVE A Series AGVs.
Premex Series AGVs
With three different unit load and fork-style base configurations, the Muratec Premex (Premium Express) AGV series was designed to achieve a continuous flow of goods without human intervention. Advanced options include the ability to interface directly with production or AS/RS equipment, clean environment compliance, and cold chain ratings. The Premex Series includes unit-load and fork-style AGVs with various SLAM and satellite vehicle navigation options. Learn more about Premex Series AGVs.
The Muratec Group has decades of experience engineering specialty AGVs for distinct use cases. Some of this innovative technology has evolved into standardized models to meet growing demand. Explore example base configurations for clean rooms, hospitals, and other demanding environments, or contact us to learn more about fully custom systems. Learn more about Specialty AGVs.