Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) have historically been extremely hard to justify for everyday distribution applications. They are burdened by the high cost of a custom engineered vehicle and the fear of supporting a one of a kind piece of equipment. Kollmorgen has recently come up with an impressive solution to this problem.
Kollmorgen is a leading provider of motion, control, and guidance systems that go into forklifts and AGVs. They developed a control system upgrade package for standard manual forklifts that allow them to operate as AGV’s. The forklift upgrade typically involves adding additional sensors, navigation mechanisms, wireless communications, and an on board control processor.
The customer site is then outfitted with the necessary navigation and software components. The most common laser navigation based system only requires a simple network of passive reflectors strategically placed throughout the operating range of the AGV.
The next question is how to apply them. The lowest hanging fruit thus far has been the full case pick to order pallet application, like that typically found in grocery distribution. In this process up to 50% of the operators time can be spent doing non value added steps. The process with the steps removed that the AGV provides is shown below.
With the AGV, the operator is left to do what they do best: picking. The AGV meets and follows the operator to the picking locations. As the pallet nears completion another AGV is automatically dispatched to meet up with the operator. If the distance between pick locations is far the operator can simply grab the controls and ride to the next location. The process at an actual installation site is viewable at www.pick-n-go.com
Now for the question of costs. A typical turnkey price for the system is around $100K per vehicle. This does not include the cost of the actual standard forklift which the customer is free to choose. Productivity for a picking application is typically doubled but the number of vehicles required is typically the same as if it were a manual operation. (Remember that the vehicle is still doing all of the steps that had to be done in the manual operation, but it can do it without the operator attached). For a multishift operation the payback is usually 1-2 years. And since the vehicles are driven in a precise and controlled manner, there is less preventative maintenance and repair costs.
If you have interest in how this might work for you contact Bastian. We are certified integrators for the Kollmorgen product line and can quickly determine estimated investment and return on investment (ROI). We can also perform simulations that are used to help optimize and provide guarantees for their performance at your site.