While some degree of automation has reached all factories, in many cases, manufacturing companies are still highly reliant on human labour. When machines exist that can perform repetitive tasks more accurately and efficiently than humans, it is worth considering the investment. Automating production processes allows workers to spend more time on less monotonous tasks, and alleviates ongoing labour shortages in the manufacturing sector.
One type of technology which succeeds in automating monotonous work is Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). AGVs are autonomous robotic vehicles, which are used to transport goods from one part of a production site to another. There are a variety of types available, including forklifts, trailers, and carts. Other variations are features such as size, load capacity, battery system, speed, and navigation system. Therefore, with the appropriate information, choosing the right AGV for your intralogistics problem becomes possible.
While the initial costs may be steep, the savings over time are immense because unlike labour, AGVs are a one-off expenditure, with only minor costs (e.g. software updates, regular service) occurring post-purchase. There are many other benefits apart from savings in labour costs, for example, improved workplace safety and higher production flexibility. In this article, I will discuss these three benefits in detail, along with examples of AGVs from leading suppliers and case studies from manufacturing firms who have implemented these AGVs on their shop floor.
1. AGVs improve workplace safety
Human-operated forklifts and other transport systems can result in serious accidents, especially when fatigue and negligence come into play. AGVs are designed with safety as a priority. With programmed features such as pre-defined paths and fixed speeds, accidents on the shop floor are less likely than with human-operated systems. The EKS 215a automated vertical order picker from Jungheinrich Ag has a variety of safety features to prevent accidents. A personal protection scanner and advanced sensor technology scan for obstacles in the path of the AGV. If a person is detected in the so-called “warning field”, the vehicle reacts in milliseconds and slows down. If a person is detected in the “safety field”, it stops immediately. Other safety features include visual and acoustic signals when loading goods and an emergency disconnect option.
Aside from these comprehensive safety benefits, the EKS 215a has various other state-of-the-art features. It is based on lithium-ion technology, which guarantees high performance and fast charging. The autonomous order picker can handle pallets precisely due to laser navigation technology. It has a maximum lift height of 6000 mm and maximum load capacity of 1500 kg. Moreover, the forks can be adjusted depending on the load carrier, ensuring high flexibility. Vehicle and engine manufacturer MAN has reaped significant benefits since implementing Jungheinrich’s automated pallet stacker in their Salzgitter site. As you can see in the video below, employees and AGVs work safely side-by-side, facilitating the optimisation of material flow.
2. AGVs reduce labour costs
Apart from the safety risks, intralogistics tasks are often monotonous and time-consuming. Consequently, finding workers for such tasks is not always easy. Automation solutions like AGVs can free up existing staff for other, more creative tasks and reduce the cost of hiring and training new employees. AGV systems reliably automate the movement of goods from one production cell to the other in manufacturing processes. One type of AGVs, Tugger AGVs, can tow multiple trailers with heavy loads over long distances. The Compact Tugger AGV from Dematic is small but powerful, with an ability to tow up to 4500 kg. Due to its compact nature, it is less expensive than other full-size options and thus delivers a faster ROI.
For leading automotive engine remanufacturer, AER Manufacturing, the ROI was just 18 months. Besides reducing labour costs, the company realised benefits such as enhanced workplace safety and a reduction in product damages. Comprehensive customer support was also provided throughout the installation process, enabling smooth implementation.
3. AGVs facilitate production flexibility
Production environments are becoming more complex, and new solutions are required to allow them to adapt to changing requirements. AGVs are one way of boosting flexibility in such circumstances. They are easily scalable, meaning that the fleet can be decreased or increased as needed. Furthermore, they can operate 24/7 without breaks. Bavarian firm Grenzebach has developed the perfect solution for modern intralogistics. The Grenzebach L1200S-Li is an under ride AGV (also referred to as an Automated Guided Cart). Due to its low height, the vehicle can easily drive under different load carriers such as tables, trolleys, racks and shelves. It can carry loads of up to 1200 kg, making it ideal for transporting smaller components. A new safety feature has recently been added, namely travel area monitoring. With this feature, obstacles such as protruding objects and partially- open doors can be better detected.
In the automotive sector, there is a particularly high demand for customisation. This makes a flexible intralogistics solution crucial. When producing the new A8 model, Audi utilised an intelligent network consisting of 30 L1200S AGVs in their Neckarsulm factory. With this innovative solution, they were able to deliver custom-fit components to workers and assembly robots at manufacturing islands in a timely manner.
From cost savings to enhanced safety and scalability, the benefits of introducing AGVs in the manufacturing environment are numerous.
Would you like to learn more about AGVs and their advantages in the manufacturing sector? Then download our White Paper, “The Magic Benefits of Automated Transportation”, which also includes comprehensive information on the various types, applications and prices as well as a list of 100 suppliers of AGVs.