Mastering Material Handling with Automated Guided Vehicles

Choosing the Right Material Handling Solution for your Business? Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can feel a touch daunting, at least at first. This guide is here to help, by explaining what AGVs are, how they work and by exploring their benefits for businesses.

What is an automated guided vehicle – or AGV?

An automated guided vehicle (AGV) is, simply, a mobile robot. AGVs follow a series of predetermined instructions, cues or signals (depending on the type of navigation technology they use) to move around and complete actions, such as picking up or dropping off materials.

A safe, efficient, and cost-effective transportation solution, they suit warehousing (intra logistics) and manufacturing operations, or other applications that require repetitive material handling tasks to be efficiently completed.

AGV applications

Key to the success of AGVs is their capability to carry out the repetitive, timely and safe movement of goods or materials. Automated guided vehicles typically carry out tasks that would have previously been carried out by conveyor systems, human-driven forklifts, manual carts, and pallet jacks.

Automated guided vehicles transport:

  • Raw materials
    When staging, AGVs might move materials from warehouses to production or assembly lines.
  • Work-in-process
    During the assembly process, AGVs are used to move semifinished goods from one work station to the next.
  • Finished products
    Finished goods might be transported back to the warehouse or directly to shipping.

And automated guided vehicles are used across a range of workplace environments, including:

  • Manufacturing facilities
    AGVs are particularly common in the automotive industry and increasingly in high-tech electronics manufacturing. In addition, AGV technology is also being adopted across a wider range of manufacturing sectors, such as paper and printing, food and beverage, packaging, pharmaceutical, and heavy industries.
  • Warehouses (intra logistics)
    In recent decades, AGVs have become a key component of supply chain automation. Research suggests that the adoption of AGVs in warehousing is expected to significantly increase in the coming years, even more so than in manufacturing.
  • Distribution & fulfilment centres
    The ongoing major demand for automated vehicles owes a lot to the rapid expansion of e-commerce, which has led to the building of huge, fully automated distribution and fulfilment centres.
  • Hospitals
    AGVs are changing the way hospitals work by optimizing on-site logistics and transporting everything from bed linen and meals to medication and personal protective equipment.
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Getting to know how AGVs work

Automated guided vehicles travel along a pre-determined route or path. One method is that they follow a physical path marked on the floor with magnetic tape or tags; another is a virtual path, which is programmed through the AGV’s navigation software.

A combination of software (such as ANT lab) and sensors (such as LiDAR-based laser scanners) calculate and control an AGV’s position and its movement, helping the vehicle understand where it currently is, where it needs to go, and how it should get there.

Advanced AGVs are not confined to working alone, and instead they can be employed as part of a larger connected fleet. This is done with AGV fleet management software (such as ANT server) to schedule tasks, distribute these between vehicles, and control traffic.

From diesel to battery power

Early generation AGVs often used diesel power, but nowadays, they rely on battery power to function, with automatic charging stations meaning they do not need to be plugged in manually.

Safety first, then speed

Achieving optimal efficiency (maximizing the number of missions per shift) and making sure the vehicle is safe (ensuring optimum stopping distances) is at the heart of a good-performing AGV. Most today reach speeds of up to 1.5 m/s (3.3 mph), though some (e.g. those driven by ANT navigation) can reach 3.5 m/s (7.8 mph). Faster speeds are possible in some applications, but safety should be the central consideration.

In fact, AGVs are significantly safer than their human-driven counterparts, seen in the much higher level of recorded accidents and incidents in manual forklift trucks compared to AGVs. In rare cases where AGVs have been involved in accidents, it is often due to proper safety procedures not being followed on-site. Therefore, as with manual vehicles, in-depth and ongoing staff training is essential.

Software & navigation

Two main types of software are used when installing and operating AGVs: 1. Configuration software; 2. Mission & fleet management software.

And AGVs typically move around pre-defined paths or routes with two principal navigation methods: 1. Following virtual or digital paths that exist only in the vehicle’s software; 2. Following physical lines (line following) or tags on the ground

It is important to note that the AGV navigation technology used has a significant impact on how quickly and easily a vehicle can be installed and operated on-site. For example, line following- and laser-triangulation-based AGVs require fairly significant changes to a site’s infrastructure, such as laying tape or installing reflective targets. In contrast, technologies such as natural-feature navigation do not require any permanent changes to a site.

Moreover, such navigation technology differences affect installation timings. Line- or tag-following AGV installations, for instance, can take weeks to configure, whereas AGV projects based on vision guidance or natural navigation could be up and running in just a few days.

Future scalability is another important consideration when choosing AGV technology: Virtual-path-following technologies are better suited to advanced fleet management, in particular traffic control, than older physical technologies.


*This blog article is based on content kindly provided to us by BlueBotics.