As technologies continue to evolve, automation systems and machines have started to become more prominent in the logistics industry. This is becoming especially apparent in warehouses where these types of vehicles are making the biggest splash. The efficiencies and benefits they bring to the table are looking to revolutionize the way warehouses are designed and operated.
To learn more about the capabilities and how to implement this type of technology in a warehouse, we had a chance to speak with Swisslog Logistics Automation, a global provider of robot based and data-driven intra logistics solutions. They helped explain further about the various types of automated technology, the changing market attitudes towards this technology and the trends they foresee in the future.
The Capabilities of Automation
Inside the four-walls of a warehouse lie a range of complex activities. In an average day, many products are delivered and moved around a warehouse or logistics center. As cargo is moved throughout a facility, each piece needs to be tracked and accounted for. Where it’s located, the status of it, and a number of other factors all need to be considered. However, no operation is flawless and with a high frequency of activities there are bound to eventually have an error occur. To decrease the chances of this, automation systems have stepped in to aid operations.
Swisslog explained that “Automated guided vehicle (AGV) systems offer an automated solution for material handling tasks without the need of an operator present. In comparison to manual work, it can perform tasks with great accuracy, consistency, longer hours and without errors due to fatigue or carelessness.”
“AGV automates workflows by managing and executing transport tasks based on optimized and flexible strategies. The machines can be installed and implemented in different types of applications. Customers can design the layout to fit with their activities and workflows. For example, if they need more throughput, then they can add more AGVs. Also, the systems are very flexible. Compared to conveyors, AGVs can be moved to another facility very easily. One AGV can replace the other during maintenance, providing maximum availability in your daily operation.”
This type of technology also comes in a wide range of types. Swisslog demonstrated that “with the difference and complexity of the supply chain now, we’ve developed the various types of technology to meet our customers’ needs. Nowadays, we offer a wide range of AGVs in the market and even some with customization available. However, all the AGVs share the main functions which are to transport, stack and some type can store the products as well.”
“There are many types of AGVs, but we can basically classify it into two types. The first type is a standard AGV, like fork AGVs and conveyor AGVs. The second type are the mobile platform AGVs. A standard AGV is used in an integrated transport system and normally as part of the overall intralogistics system. A variety of vehicle types are available to cover the needs of many different industries. The vehicle types are forklift truck and conveyor deck, and the second type are mobile platform AGVs. For example, at Swisslog we have CarryPick, our mobile technology for efficient storage and order picking. It is an innovative automated storage and picking system designed for multi-channel intralogistics. The mobile vehicles developed by Swisslog and KUKA, navigates via a grid to deliver mobile racks to workstations for picking and reducing the travel path for workers. Each vehicle can step in for another and do its job. The system remains operational even with a reduced fleet. Goods can also be picked manually, if necessary. We design the systems to be able to react quickly to changes of goods range. The standard mobile racks can be customized for different sized and shaped articles. This is especially suitable for the fashion industry where clothes require hangers. Moreover, the system can quickly be moved to another location. This also means the system can be installed in urban areas where buildings have mostly low ceilings. Customer can start from small fleet, then expand flexibly in line with performance and growing volumes by adding more vehicles later.”
This type of technology can be implemented and utilized with any products that can be placed on pallets, cages or any standard bins or transport units. Ideally, AGVs are suitable for most types of material handling as they can fulfill their duties safely and reliably. With modern navigation options and customized load handling, AGVs are efficient in highly complex logistics systems and simple scenarios.
Swisslog added that, “Our AGVs can operate as a stand-alone system or, if connected to an ERP, as a fully integrated subsystem of a complete plant. The workstations are safe and configurable to the requirements. They also reduce the picking error rate with pick-by-light and pick pointer. Users benefit from an intuitive workstation interface making it easy to use and ensuring smooth processes. Apart from the normal AGVs type, we provide if some customers require customization on the vehicles, we also have those options for them too. Thus, we have to look on a case by case since there are a variety of standard handling functions that customer can utilize without the need of customization.”
“We have some customers that need an automated solution as well. One of our customers is AMAG Automobil in Switzerland, the Swiss general importer of VW, Škoda, Audi, SEAT and VW commercial vehicles. They have planned to eliminate all remaining manual transport processes between the individual zones and levels. Based on that prerequisite, Swisslog developed a concept for an AGV system of 20 vehicles including control software, laser-guided navigation, and a Wi-Fi-capable communications infrastructure to keep vehicles on track and offer ultimate safety in the warehouse. Based on the size of the vehicle fleet, the system is the largest in Switzerland and Swisslog’s biggest AGV installation in the world to date. Today, the system ensures on-time and seamlessly traceable transport processes. Delivery errors and transport damage were minimized, and transport distances within the warehouse optimized thanks to the 30 percent faster throughput times of the AGVs.”
Moreover, when starting to implement the machines that match a customer’s need, there are a few more things to consider. “Customers should understand the workflow of the activity they have, for instance, the number of shifts, accuracy, and space. Also, there are some areas which the customers should keep in mind about safety. AGVs requires a high-floor requirement for flatness and floor loading. The higher the AGV has to lift the goods, the more sensors may be required for accuracy, and a slower speed is then necessary for safety.”
The Future of Automation
Apart from the AGVs, there are other types of automation technologies that can help operations further like transportation, storage and picking. Swisslog said that, “Robot handling is also part of Swisslog’s portfolio and used mainly but not limited to palletizing and depalletizing. We shape the future of intralogistics with robotic, data-driven and flexible automated solutions that achieve exceptional value for our customers. Swisslog helps forward-thinking companies optimize the performance of their warehouses and distribution centers with future-ready automation systems and software with automated storage and retrieval systems like pallet stacker cranes, mini-load cranes, small parts storage and order processing, light goods shuttle system and pallet shuttle system. Also, Swisslog provides a warehouse management system which has complete solutions for a new end-to-end service spectrum.”
When it comes to choosing the right solutions provider, Swisslog has given some tips that, “Customers should choose the provider who has a good track record as controls, traffic and battery management, customer support and standard spare parts in the market play an important part to maintaining AGV quality and efficiency. A good provider with good support and maintenance can make you rest assured that when you have problems, there will always be support. At Swisslog, we have experience in this AGV business for over 45 years, and that allows us to be able to design the system with the experience of countless successful projects. We have combined R&D resources of KUKA and Swisslog to provide first-class AGVs of mobile robots. For us, we have a large service network worldwide to make sure that whenever our customers need any support and have any requirement, our team can respond and provide quick and reliable service to them. Our operation has high availability and reliability and can trace transported goods. Also, we have minimized transport damages and delivery errors with less dependence on personnel which reduces associated cost.”
AGVs have been a topic in the industry for quite a while. As time passes, people are beginning to see the capabilities and benefits this technology can provide and are starting to show a positive outlook towards this. “People are certainly becoming more interested in flexible material handling and more on automation, like AGVs. The market is changing, and this kind of technology can help operators accomplish their jobs more efficiency.”