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Automated Guided Vehicles Are the Backbone of Industry 4.0

Automated Guided Vehicles

People are often interested in getting their facilities equipped for Industry 4.0, but they’re not sure how to begin. There is no universal answer, but many decision-makers realize automated guided vehicles (AGVs) represent a good starting point.

AGVs Help Companies Get More Done With Smaller Teams

When it becomes clear that a company is growing faster than its current team can accommodate, one possible solution is hiring more people. However, that approach can take a while, especially given the time required to find candidates, extend job offers and provide training. Another option is to use AGVs to supplement the current workforce.

Geek+ is a startup based in Beijing, China, that went with that approach. It purchased 120 machines and uses them on behalf of Yunji, a social-commerce startup. This change reportedly allows processing up to 100,000 orders a day. If the company did not have the AGVs, it would need 300-600 people to handle that many orders daily.

Zheng Yong, the CEO of Geek+, noted that it’s often challenging to find enough people to get the job done, especially during peak seasons. However, automated guided vehicles can fill those gaps, making companies more responsive to demand increases.

AGVs Allow Companies to Handle Order Surges

Most company leaders know they must start planning for rising customer demand well in advance. Fortunately, those busier periods often coincide with holidays, sales or sometimes both.

In the case of Indian e-commerce retailer Flipkart, company decision-makers decided to substantially increase its AGVs used for order fulfilment. The brand began with 100 in one of its sortation facilities. However, leaders planned to increase the number to 340. That intended ramping up was primarily due to a sales event called Big Billion Day, which occurs before Diwali.

The increase in AGV usage lets the company’s team members process more than 4,500 packages every hour. The machines can also run nearly 24/7. The only breaks they need are to recharge when their batteries run low, and this occurs automatically because the AGVs know how to get back to their stations to power up without human help.

AGVs Complement Other Industry 4.0 Technologies

Statistics indicate that the warehouse automation market will likely reach an overall worth of about $30 billion by about 2026. That’s a substantial increase, considering that the value in 2019 was approximately $15 billion. One thing likely driving this growth is the fact that AGVs work with other Industry 4.0 upgrades.

One example is the 5G network and cellular connectivity in general. They both provide substantially better coverage for AGVs than Wi-Fi networks could.

Patrick Ruelke, a business development manager at Ericsson, explained how advanced networks helped build use cases for automated guided vehicles. He said, “As the spaces AGVs needed to cover grew, another flaw in their connectivity design emerged: A seamless handover from one Wi-Fi cell to another was not possible, and when data transmissions become limited, accidents might occur. Over the years, thanks to advancements in cellular and 5G connectivity, AGVs have moved closer to becoming truly autonomous robots, no longer reliant on preconfigured scripts.”

Ruelke continued, “With 5G, AMRs can utilize navigation algorithms, LiDAR sensors, vision technology and virtual map sharing to detect objects, think on their own and move autonomously through facilities. Wi-Fi cannot support these advanced machines with the seamless coverage and high data transfers needed to operate in sprawling environments. Cellular, namely 5G, is the only technology that can provide the reliability, bandwidth, coverage and security required to safely operate AGVs.”

Many Industry 4.0 warehouses also use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Analysts believe the global RFID will reach $40.5 billion in market worth by 2025. RFID can help team members sort products faster and provide a more accurate way to track assets. However, it’s also part of many AGVs.

Sometimes, RFID components help the machines with load detection. In other cases, RFID tags get embedded into the floor used by AGVs so they can determine positioning as the automated guided vehicle approaches a load pickup point or another key area.

AGVs Target Pain Points and Boost Resilience

Sometimes, company leaders know that issues exist in their facility and decide to use technology to overcome them. In one case, it became clear that an auto parts manufacturer needed efficiency improvements. The issues concerned the processes for delivering the tubs used to store finished goods to the right places in the factory. Previously, the company used pallet jacks and driving tuggers and carts to get the job done.

However, replacing those methods with automated guided vehicles got some impressive results. Unlike AGVs that use lasers or magnetic tape to move around a factory, the machines used in this case relied on a technology called simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM). That approach lets the AGV create a digital map of the facility, then rely on its natural feature navigation capabilities when moving.

The change to AGVs caused a 73% reduction in the labour hours needed for materials handling at the company. It also made the factory floor safer and meant that some team members who formerly worked in that area could move to roles in other parts of the facility.

The company could also replace a manual process that required people to visually track when it was time to move tubs to their destinations. Bringing AGVs into the factory enhanced efficiency while making the factory floor less crowded with people and machines.

The company’s leaders also appreciated that each AGV they purchased could carry up to 2,200 pounds. Another perk was that the machines could operate for four to five hours per half-hour charge. Those characteristics fit the company’s operating needs and helped it stay competitive.

Will You Make Automated Guided Vehicles Part of Your Industry 4.0 Strategy?

Creating an Industry 4.0 factory takes effort and planning. Most people who embark on this endeavour work on the project gradually, sometimes waiting for certain technologies to show returns on investment before purchasing others. However, as these examples show, automated guided vehicles are foundational parts of today’s smart factories. You could gain efficiency, safety and other advantages after implementing them.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing articles for the tech and industrial sectors. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily at https://revolutionized.com/subscribe/
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