Autonomous vehicles like AGVs (automated guided vehicles) and AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) are cost-effective, flexible, and reliable alternatives to conventional material transport methods like forklifts or static conveyors.
Unlike some automation options where automating means completely replacing a process or equipment with an entirely new structure, it’s common that individual AVs (autonomous vehicles) are added and removed as workflow requires, allowing you to see both manual and automated equipment working side by side.
In general, what makes autonomous vehicle integration successful is rooted in thoughtful planning for how it will be incorporated into your operation. How do you prepare to incorporate autonomous vehicles in a way that would improve your operation’s productivity without creating unintentional downtime?
Discover some key factors to consider when balancing both autonomous and manual vehicles in your operations.
First and foremost is safety. Make sure that your staff is aware of the different moving vehicles or traffic patterns. This can be accomplished through updated employee training plans which should capture new and updated pathways, new lights, indicators or alert sounds, and vehicle right of way. Additionally, stress the importance of keeping pathways clear and the risks of disregarding the rules.
Through recent advancements in safety controllers, AVs of all types offer a safe and predictable method of delivery. AMRs can leverage dynamic path planning to safely move around obstacles and avoid interferences, requiring no human intervention. AGVs can safely detect obstacles but require external intervention like a human individual to remove the obstacle before they can proceed.
In general, autonomous vehicles can operate almost around the clock, without the need for breaks, which means that human traffic and traditional forklift operators will need to be aware of these continuous pathways.
While all AGVs and AMRs go through thorough testing before being incorporated into live operations, hand paddles can be kept on hand to test vehicle sensors in between maintenance checks. By placing the paddle in front of the vehicle’s pathway, your team members can safely verify that sensors will trigger the appropriate automatic stop.
Unlike most automated material handling systems that are locked into place, AGVs and AMRs provide flexibility by being able to program new routes/missions on demand. However, there are a few key conditions that will help ensure robust navigation from destination to destination.
1. Flat floors – by contrast steep grades, uneven concrete, and large cracks will reduce the successful mission rate.
2. Defined travel paths – pathways should be clear of obstructions and wide enough to provide the right amount of clearance for the vehicle and the loads it’ll carry or pull. Also, ensure that paths don’t interfere with other manual material handling solutions.
3. Navigation selection – determine guidance and navigation system to be used. Vehicles that use vision or natural features navigation require little to no infrastructure because they operate by referencing existing features so carefully analyze if your environment is right for this technology. Navigation selection can be compared to “choosing the right tool for the job” so consider which technology fits best in your operations.
Leverage fleet or traffic management software to monitor your operations. Tight integration with the warehouse operation host system and WES (warehouse execution system) will help bring together your material handling solutions and operation needs to better drive productivity, facilitate coordination and promote safer work environments. This will specifically help with task scheduling triggering vehicles to move throughout the warehouse to complete tasks. It can also help with route planning to determine movements, avoid traffic, and better utilize warehouse space.
In addition to considering the facility’s defined pathways and updating safety training, consider traffic pattern changes as a whole. Where will automated, human, and manual vehicle traffic overlap? Is it required to overlap, or can pathways be adjusted? Confirm each vehicle’s speed, automated and manual. Should additional safety sensors be added to avoid collisions? Work through these questions to make necessary adjustments.
Sometimes an AV system is considered after a process is already in place. With this being the case, it’s important to carefully consider when the changeover or addition of an AV could take place at your facility. Carefully plan the timing and season of operations to reduce backlogs during implementation.
The applications of AGVs and AMRs are expanding as customers become more accustomed to the capabilities and benefits that these autonomous vehicles can bring to operations. The flexibility and easy scalability to quickly add in a vehicle with little to no facility modifications and familiarity with a standard forklift style and design make these an attractive solution option. Keeping in mind and balancing for dual equipment types – manual and automated – will only help to ensure that both bring the most benefits to your operation on your timeframe. Avoid disrupting operations and make integration seamless with the above steps.
Ready to explore solutions for improved efficiency? Let us guide you on your automation journey. By combining data-driven designs, scalable material handling systems, and innovative software, our experts are ready to help you plan and execute.