AGV’s on the move, finally.
May 27, 2020
Colin Wells, managing director of Robotic Automation, takes a closer look at the historical challenges dogging the uptake of automatic guided vehicles and explains why modern technology is changing the game. Automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are not new to Australia, however, the take-up by the ANZ manufacturing industry over the past 30 years has, frankly, been appalling. Why?
To attempt to answer the question it’s helpful to understand the important factors involved and consider what’s currently happening that is going to shape a better future for AGV’s.
As a comparison it’s worth looking at a close cousin of AGVs – Robotics – often a partner to AGVs in automation systems. The adoption rates are completely different, with robotics in the very high bracket and AGVs at the other end of the scale.
Also notable is the fact that the longevity of Robots is higher compared to that of existing installed AGVs. Another important point of comparison is what Robotics have offered the ANZ manufacturing industry across the board – flexibility, agility, ease-of-programming. The end user can also be easily trained to edit or change programs simply and often does so. To my knowledge, this os unheard of in the AGV installs in ANZ and overseas.
LACK OF R&D
Apart from the differences already mentioned, it’s worth noting that the two industries are hugely different in size with the global AGVs industry minute compared to the global Robotics industry.
This is a major contributing factor in that the amount of dollars spent on R&D is limited by the size of the industry.
Another contributing factor in the AGV world is the long-held acceptance of the status quo by AGV manufacturers, which has led to the AGV control
systems being left way behind other comparable industries such as Robotics.
It’s this lack of R&D in AGV control systems which have made them complicated and expensive to install or edit, sometimes requiring more than one specialist to perform what should be simple editing tasks. Basically, this acceptance of the status quo has led to non-user friendly, inflexible AGVs as the only option.
This is the opposite to what the ANZ market needs out of AGVs, as our industries really require these attributes given the size and frequent changeovers that are common in our industry.
Another point to consider, the vast majority of the AGV manufacturers or suppliers, are located overseas. This has also contributed to a set-and-leave-alone mindset, as editing or changing AGV’s as already mentioned are complicated, difficult and expensive.
Compounding the problem, the majority of AGV manufactures have sourced their AGV controllers from a single supplier which means individual manufacturers avoided embarking on their own R&D Pretty much globally.
SOLUTION IN SIGHT
Clearly, it’s a combination of items that have got us to where we are today, however, that’s all about to change.
Finally, a European AGV manufacturer has produced a Windows-based AGV programming system that’s very simple to use and is extremely user friendly. The company behind it has been employing it now for over 10 years globally and very successfully.
The same control package also doubles as a very powerful WMS (Warehouse Management System), which is extremely handy if you are also employing an ASRS (Automatic Storage & Retrieval System) or other storage medium.
This modern AGV control package virtually eliminates middleware, which is always the source of many issues in the plants that I have visited in ANZ.
Thus, the modern AGV generation will eliminate virtually all the obstacles encountered in the past.
WORTH THE WAIT
Modern AGVs should offer end users numerous benefits at a ‘game changing’ level:
•They will be customer friendly, with the ability to simply edit or change paths yourself (ideally Windows-based as most people already know the language).
•The AGVs and control systems will be easy to im plement and therefore this will lower overall cost.
•It will be easy to upgrade or Implement additional AGVs.
•An imbedded WMS that also uses the same Windows-based package makes an ideal partner to use with an ASRS (ie total system approach – get rid of any middleware).
•Simple customer interface via mobile phone, tab let or laptop to access any of the multitude of standard data or real time performance screens.
We can’t change the past, but the future is looking very bright indeed. In my view, there has never been a better time to look at employing modern AGVs.