July 23, 2024

Automated Guided Vehicles – The Future of Warehouse Operations

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are emerging as a revolutionary technology to streamline warehouse operations. AGVs are driverless vehicles which use guidance systems such as magnetic strips, laser guidance, or computer vision to navigate warehouses without any human operator intervention. As warehouses around the world grapple with growing labour costs and demand for greater efficiency, AGVs are increasingly becoming the technology of choice to automate intralogistics processes. This article discusses how AGVs are transforming warehouse operations.

What are AGVs?

AGVs are unmanned, programmable vehicles equipped with navigation systems that allow for autonomous movements within buildings or factories. AGVs are commonly used to transport materials around warehouses, distribution centers and manufacturing facilities. They are equipped with on-board sensors and controls that allow them to safely follow pre-programmed routes, avoid collisions with obstacles and interact with other machinery without any human assistance. Popular guidance methods used in AGVs include magnetic tape/wireless guidance, laser guidance, vision guidance and inductive guidance. The vehicles can carry a wide variety of loads ranging from palletized goods to smaller parts and come in different shapes and sizes depending on their application.

Benefits of AGVs

AGVs deliver numerous benefits that are driving their widespread adoption in warehouses across industries:

Increased Efficiency – AGVs allow for 24/7 operation in warehouses since they do not require breaks. They can move materials continuously resulting in higher throughput. AGVs optimize routes to reduce distance travelled.

Labour Cost Savings – AGVs eliminate the need for manual forklifts and drivers, resulting in significant savings on labour costs which account for major warehousing expenses. Management of forklift fleets is also simplified.

Inventory Accuracy – AGVs enable 100% accuracy in order picking, put away and replenishment since they do not make mistakes. This ensures perfect inventory records and enhances customer fulfillment.

Safety – With no drivers involved, AGVs eliminate risks of accidents caused by operator errors. Their automated navigation makes them less prone to collisions. This improves overall workplace safety.

Scalability – AGV fleets can be expanded or reduced easily based on changing warehouse traffic and demand patterns. AGVs offer flexibility to scale operations up or down which manual fleets lack.

Data Insights – AGVs are equipped with sensors and connectivity that provide troves of real-time data on warehouse performance metrics, traffic patterns and optimization opportunities.

Applications of AGVs

AGVs have become indispensable in automating key warehouse processes such as:

Storage and Retrieval – AGVs autonomously store pallets and goods in high bay warehouses and retrieve them on command for order fulfillment. This streamlines put away, replenishment and order picking workflows.

Transportation – AGVs transport materials, parts and inventory between different areas of warehouses, between warehouses and loading docks, within manufacturing facilities and other locations.

Assembly – In manufacturing facilities, AGVs deliver parts on just-in-time basis to assembly lines and collect finished goods without disrupting production schedules.

Order Picking – AGVs equipped with picking drones or robots can autonomously pick and transport customer orders to shipping stations to fulfil ecommerce and B2B orders.

AGVs in Action

Major global companies have implemented AGVs at scale to revolutionize their warehouse management. For example:

– Amazon operates over 200,000 AGVs called “Drive Units” across its fulfillment centers worldwide to transport inventory between floors and docks at high speeds.

– Walmart uses thousands of AGVs from several vendors to automate put away, replenishment and picking across its automated warehouses.

– DHL has deployed over 1,000 AGVs from various vendors in its warehouses in Germany, Belgium and other countries to streamline order fulfillment.

– Unilever installed MiR 200 AGVs from Mobile Industrial Robots in several of its European warehouses to automate material movement amid ongoing labor challenges.

– AB InBev’s automated brewery in Mexico leverages 200 AGVs from Bastian Solutions to transport empty and filled bottles within the facility.

Future of AGVs

AGVs progress rapidly, the capabilities of AGVs continue to expand. Fleets of collaborative AGVs that can seamlessly work alongside humans are gaining popularity. Newer models offer advanced features like voice recognition interfaces, integrated robotics for lifting boxes and autonomous charging. Integration of AGVs with Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) and Fleet Management Systems (FMS) is creating truly driverless intralogistics ecosystems. As their uptake accelerates, AGVs are set to play a defining role in shaping the next generation of automated warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it