Automated Guided Vehicles: All You Need To Know

The new era of collaborative robotics is here! 

In recent years we’ve seen collaborative robots become one of the main drivers of the industry.

When compared to driver-operated factory floor vehicles or conveyor belts, AGVs come with a ton of benefits, including improved safety, better utilisation of space, and flexibility.

More and more manufacturers these days are opting for AGVs due to their immense potential to cut down the soaring operating costs and blend seamlessly with the overall automation concept of the industry.

AGVs hold the golden key to find the best-fit solutions for the logistics and production needs of the industry.

The graph shown below indicates the percentage of companies shifting to AGVs over the years.

shifting to AGV

Source: Statista

What are automated guided vehicles? 

Also known as autonomous guided vehicles or self-guided vehicles, AGVs are material handling or fleet management systems or load carriers capable of autonomously travelling through a manufacturing facility, warehouse, or distribution centre without an operator.

How do AGVs work?

These are self-propelled vehicles and move through defined pathways. 

The movement of AGVs is directed by a combination of the sensor-based guidance system and software technology. In addition, they have more advanced dynamic navigation capability.

AGVs usually have inbuilt automatic obstacle detection bumpers and move with a precisely controlled deceleration and acceleration.

Types of automated guided vehicles 

There are several different types of AGVs. Although many are similar to other human-operated vehicles, these are designed to work seamlessly without the need for any human intervention.

Here are some of the various different types of AGVs used in industries.

1. AGV Robots

These are automatic guided vehicles with robotic limbs. Unlike regular AGVs, these vehicles work great at moving or picking items. AGV robots are a unique blend of human intuitiveness and brute mechanical lifting force.

AGV robots can be programmed and are commonly used for loading and unloading applications. Moreover, they work precisely without any error creeping in.

2. Automated Guided Carts

This is the most basic type of AGV with minimal features. The inbuilt navigation system can range from a simple magnetic tape to an advanced sensor-based system.

Automated guided carts are used to transport a range of materials from loaded pallets to small parts. They are commonly used in storage and cross-docking applications.

One of the popular examples of these is the hospital cart transporter. This is used to transport loads within a hospital effectively. This includes sterile supplies, biohazard waste, soiled linens, meals, empty food trays, etc. 

There is no need for workers to push the cart from one place to another with Automated guided carts.

2. Forklift AGV

These are AGVs integrated into a forklift. Forklift AGVs are suitable for the floor-level pallet to pick up and can stock pallets at various heights.

These are widely used in sorting systems and automatic storage units, particularly warehouse racking. In addition, forklift AGVs help to save lots of costs incurred in labour charges since they help replace Hi-Lo operators and lift trucks that require training and licensing.

3.Towing AGV

These AGVs are used to pull trailers or carriers. Towing AGVs are solely designed for transport and cannot place the respective loads in their locations.

Since load-carrying does not involve lifting, towing AGV can handle multiple loads at the same time. 

They are sometimes known as driverless vehicles and are effective in transporting heavy loads over long distances. They might have several picks up or drop off points along a defined path.

4.Unit load handlers

They carry discrete loads such as a single unit, individual object, pallet, or tote containing multiple items.

5. Heavy burden carrier 

As the name suggests, these AGVs are designed to carry the heaviest loads, such as large assembly, casting and coil etc. Certain carriers have pivot or omnidirectional steering with self-loading capabilities.

Heavy loads AGVs can effectively handle up to 25,000 pounds. As a result, they often come with larger bases, wide platforms and solid wheels. In some instances, they have to be custom-designed to perform a function unique to the industry.

6. Autonomous mobile robots (AMR)

These are more technologically advanced than other types of AGVs.The navigation system can vary from simple wire or magnetic tape to intelligent navigational systems.

Intelligent navigation systems used by autonomous mobile robots use sensors and camera systems to indemnify and navigate around obstacles. Advanced software technology used by AMRs also plans the most efficient path to navigate a warehouse.

7. Underride AGV

These are AGVs that lift the load by driving underneath a cart or basket and lifting it slightly. The load is then carried to the required destination and dropped without any intervention.

You can see many underride AGVs in hospitals that help carry linens, medical supplies, and food items.

8. Unit load AGV

They help to transport palletised or unitised goods. Unlike the underride AGV, they do not lift the load from the floor. Raising the load often requires other load lifting equipment.

9. Assembly AGV

These are used to transport goods in an assembly process. The navigation is relatively more straightforward since the assembly process happens in a controlled environment. 

The driving speed of assembly AGVs are relatively low, but their location system is highly manoeuvrable, enabling them to fit and orient accordingly to assembly stations.

Applications of AGVs

Although AGVs are commonly used for transporting materials, their applications are practically endless. 

Thanks to advancements in robotics and software engineering, this technology can be moulded to adapt to a wide range of environments.

Here are some of the exciting applications of AGVs.

1. Handling of raw materials

AGVs are most commonly used to transport raw materials such as paper, rubber, steel and plastic. Material handling includes receiving the materials from the warehouse to delivering the materials directly to the production unit.

2. Handling of hazardous materials

Often harmful materials (chemicals, radioactive etc.) are used in the manufacturing process. If human operators handle this hazardous stuff, there is a high risk of accidents.

Using AGVs to handle these high-risk materials helps to ensure that there is no room for accidents.

3. Finished product handling

Automated guided vehicles can be rightfully used for transporting finished goods before they are delivered to the customers.

These movements require the gentlest handling mainly because the products are susceptible to damage due to rough handling.

4. Cart handling

AGVs can be effectively used for handling trolleys and moving carts.

5. Roll and bulk handling

If you plan to transport semi, finished goods or raw materials, AGVs can be used to ensure bulk and smooth handling.

6. Pallet handling

This is a top-rated application of AGVs.The repetitive movement of pallets is commonly used in distribution and manufacturing facilities. AVGs can be employed for performing pallet handling.

Benefits of AGVs

Automated Guided Vehicles offer numerous benefits to manufacturing and warehousing.

1. Reduced labour charges

By investing in AGVs, the only cost incurred to companies is the initial expense of the equipment.

By replacing the human workforce, businesses can save many costs incurred on monthly salary, vacation time, payroll taxes, health care coverage etc.

2. Flexibility

One of the most incredible benefits of AGVs is that they are highly flexible. Routes can be easily changed by reprogramming the instructions.

AGVs are a scalable solution when it comes to meeting the different demands of the industry and additional units as per the changing demand.

3.Improved safety

One of the prime concerns of implementing AGVs in businesses is safety. Therefore, the entire programming of AGVs is done by keeping safety as the topmost priority.

AGVs are crammed with lasers, sensors and cameras, allowing them to operate around structures and personnel safety. On the other hand, the equipment used by human operators lack many essential safety features, and there is always room for error.

Besides, human operators can also get tired or distracted, which is another cause of accidents. AVGs, on the other hand, can work round the clock.

4. Less pace required

When compared to traditional warehouse equipment AVGs consume less space. Some of them are even smaller than conventional warehouse equipment, such as forklifts that allow for floor layouts with narrow aisles.

5.Increased productivity and efficiency

Since AVGs operate automatically, they are highly predictable and reliable for performing repetitive tasks. As a result, they boost productivity by eliminating unnecessary walking and physical labour for repetitive tasks.

The idea here is to replace the human element with AGVs and minimise some inaccurate workflows

6. Modularity

This will help companies to avoid high initial investments. Instead of purchasing AGVs in bulk, you will be able to buy one or two and gradually expand your fleet to fully automated operations.

7. Steady cost 

As AGVs are acquired on a per rental or per unit cost basis, cost fluctuations are relatively minor. On the other hand, human labour chargers can fluctuate as per market demand.

Bottom Line

One of the best things about AGV technology is that it is highly adaptive and can be made for operation in any industry known to man. As more and more companies shift to use AGVs, they can cut down the unnecessary cost lost in manual labour chargers.

In this article, we have explained different types of AGVs, their applications, and their benefits. Let us hope that tomorrow’s world holds the promise of industries being safer, fast, and efficient.