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Automation trends: Automated guided vehicles & vision-guided lift trucks

Using intelligent technology to maximize productivity and reduce operating costs is a strategic initiative for many firms. It helps improve their bottom line. As investments that foster both productivity improvements while reducing costs, Automated Guided Vehicles (AVG) systems are a proven material handling technology with some significant advantages but also some significant limitations.

Vision guided systems

A conventional AVG system is custom-designed and pre-programmed for specific and repetitive or predictable routes. Required for the horizontal transportation of materials across sizeable distances in a facility like a manufacturing plant, the vehicle moves products between pick up and deposit points. Through the use of intelligent technology, the AGV can be directed by inventory management or ERP systems to delivery or pick up finished products or work in process, getting them to their ultimate destination time and time again.

Automated Guided Vehicles

As unmanned vehicles, Automated Guided Vehicles (AVGs) can enter areas hazardous to humans, enhancing worker safety. Systems can be designed to handle loads from a few pounds to tens of thousands of pounds, transporting materials securely, ensuring accurate delivery, eliminating human error and reducing product damage.Automated guided vehicles & vision-guided lift truck from Raymond

Despite their significant capabilities, conventional Automated Guided Vehicles are not suited to warehouse environments with varied routes and variable needs regarding throughput. As a pre-programmed system, engineered for specific tasks, AGV paths within the environment require extensive programming in the initial set-up. Reprogramming and changing routes is typically time-consuming and expensive.

While a company may save money in human resources, the initial investment in an automated guided vehicle system can be costly, ranging upwards of about $150,000 a unit, plus the cost of up-front engineering. Maintenance for these utomated guided vehicles requires specialized support, another factor in the overall expenditure.

A new generation of vision-guided automated lift truck (ALT) is an alternative to the conventional AVG. An ALT is a conventional lift truck equipped to move goods throughout the warehouse automatically, with greater flexibility than an AGV. As the next iteration of lift truck technology, operator-optional automated lift trucks provide flexibility, as they can be operated manually or set to perform in an automated mode. They create economical and operational advantages because they permit better use of labor, multiplying the impact of a company’s existing work force. The automated lift truck can replace operator-manned lift trucks in various warehouse, distribution, manufacturing and process industries.

The vision guided ALT is a remarkable technological achievement that uses digital imaging to create multiple, repeatable routes. The ALT “learns” routes and the actions to perform on a route while an operator drives it. The truck is equipped with a vision-guidance system consisting of a multi-head camera system that records important visual information while other parts of the system record steer angle and wheel rotation data when the truck is being driven in “learn” mode. Then, the software and hardware convert this data into a travel path the truck can follow over and over again in automated mode. If the truck that is running in automated mode senses an obstruction, it will slow down and eventually stop until the obstruction is removed, and then continue on its travel path. The vision-guided truck technology is currently limited to a horizontal pallet mover. Though this limits usage at present, the rate of technological advances ensures that this type of programmable, flexible path of mobility vehicle is the way of the future. The ease of use and versatility of operation make these vehicles an investment that builds an efficient warehouse.

Automated lift trucks offer a number of benefits.

ALTs are flexible.

ALTs are efficient.

ALTs are affordable.

Ideal applications for ALTs are horizontal transport tasks like:

Engineered to be user-friendly, the unit is easy to navigate. A trained human operator, who is able to manage several ALTs at a time, can coordinate the routes and execute the workflow. Seen as a labor multiplier, as opposed to a labor eliminator, ALTs increase the skill and production in an ever-changing work environment. Improving the throughput of an organization while saving skilled labor for their highest-value tasks, organizations are reducing wage costs without removing the human interface in their warehouse facilities.

One of the important benefits of ALTs is not only the initial cost. Because ALT are based on conventional lift trucks, maintenance is simplified and truck can be supported by a local supplier. Implementation is fast: typically, about two weeks from the initial delivery at a customer site to completion of route programming. This represents cost savings that make this technology accessible to small and mid-sized businesses and practical for larger business centers too.

Intelligent technology and streamlined processes ensure modern efficiency in warehouse facilities where time truly is money.

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