In the previous articles of this series, we talked about some of the most common industrial robots that are used in the automotive industry and Robotic Process Automation (RBA). In this article of the Robotics and Automation series, we take a look at automated guided vehicles (AGVs).
An AGV is a portable robot that utilises radio waves, lasers, cameras or sensors to navigate along a marked path without human intervention. Although AGVs were first brought into the market in the 1950s, its usage in industrial applications became wider in the late 20th century.
Methods of navigation
Picture source: www.turck.de
AGVs typically depend on sensors and cameras to detect either coloured or magnetic tapes, which is used to mark the course intended for the AGV. The attributes of the tapes such as its width, thickness and colour intensity are all variables which allows the AGV to adjust the speed and intensity of its task.
Vision-guided AGVs utilises cameras placed around them to plot, build and memorise its environment using 360-degree pictures which is then used to build 3D map, which allows the vision-guided AGVs to follow a trained route without human assistance. Using its in-built memory, the 3D map is replayed constantly for the AGV to move along the path.
Applications of AGVs in the manufacturing industry
AGVs are mainly used to transport materials (such as paper, metal and plastic) to different areas within the manufacturing line. However, they are also implemented in other tasks such as:
- Stock/Inventory management
- Waste management
- Work-in-process movement
Benefits of implementing AGVs
AGVs are programmed with safety as its utmost priority. The cameras, lasers and sensors attached around them enable them to safely operate around personnel and structures by detecting obstructions and will halt operations immediately if it senses potential danger. Additionally, AGVs can operate in conditions that humans aren’t conditioned to such as in extreme temperatures, around hazardous materials or in claustrophobic spaces.
AGVs are meant to perform repeatable tasks in a fast and accurate manner, therefore eliminating potential human error and downtime. This leads to an increased output of products. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity for manufacturers to absorb higher demands, resulting in higher profitability. Since AGVs are implemented to perform repeatable tasks that were previously conducted by human workers, they can now concentrate on other value-added jobs.
AGVs can also be a used as a stepping stone for SMEs to begin their journey towards full automation. By integrating AGVs with a management system, processes can be streamlined and automated such as inventory management, material ordering and handling. AGVs are also modular-based, which means additional equipment can be added onto them to perform multiple tasks. For example, AGVs can be fitted with a forklift system to manage stock management while moving materials around the production line (material handling). This leads to a non-disruptive transformation towards automation.
AGVs can be an efficient tool in helping SMEs and newly established manufacturing companies in adopting robotics and automation in their processes. Not only is it an investment worth taking, it also seamlessly integrates into one’s production line. There is no need for a process overhaul to occur in order to successfully implement the usage of AGVs in the manufacturing process.