Alternatives to Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) can be powerful tools for warehouses and DCs who are looking to fully- or partially-automate their operations. By performing repetitive tasks such as moving inventory or shuttling supplies, AGVs free up personnel to perform other, high-value tasks than cannot be achieved through automation, ultimately increasing overall efficiency and boosting the operation’s bottom line.
But though they can offer a large number of benefits for the operations that implement them, the fact remains that AGVs are not well-suited for all businesses.
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If you are looking to automate your operation but worry that AGVs would not fulfill your specific needs, there’s good news: Warehouse automation comes in many forms and technologies that you can use to boost the efficiency and profitability of your operation.
Below, we explore some of the alternatives to AGVs that may be able to help you reach your operational goals. The most common alternatives to AGVs include:
- Conveyor Systems
- Automated Storage and Retrieval (AS/RS)
- Overhead Trolley Conveyors
- Automated Guided Carts (AGCs)
Conveyor Systems vs. AGVs
Conveyor systems were created to automate the transfer of materials—whether raw materials, works-in-process, or finished goods—from one location to another within a factory, warehouse, or distribution center, just as AGVs were designed to do.
Because conveyors have been around for so long, the underlying technology that makes them work has been adapted into countless variations, each of which is well-suited to transporting different kinds of materials and completing different tasks (such as sorting) in addition to simply transporting materials. Some of the most common conveyors available include:
- Accumulation Conveyors
- Case Conveyors
- Pallet Handling Conveyors
- Trash Conveyors
- Polybag Handling Systems
- Numerous sortation systems
The main difference between conveyors and AGVs boils down to how much floor space they eat up within a facility. By design, conveyors are going to need much more dedicated space to implement than is required by an AGV or fleet of AGVs. That being said, there are options available for facilities that find themselves constrained with a small footprint.
Automated Storage and Retrieval (AS/RS) vs. AGVs
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS), as a technology, are another potential alternative for AGVs in that it can provide the transfer of materials and goods necessary for an operation to continue running smoothly. But whereas AGVs solely move goods, AS/RS has the potential to perform other applications as well.
In addition to traditional long-term storage AS/RS can be used to provide buffer storage between various stages in an operation’s workflow, to stage orders for shipping, and it can be incorporated into a Goods-to-Person (G2P) order picking and packing strategy.
Beyond this, AS/RS potentially allows an operation to address a greater number of logistical issues than AGVs: Namely, the question of storage space necessary for inventory. Because AS/RS allows an operation to reclaim vertical space by building up instead of out, implementing automated storage and retrieval often creates a more efficient use of space while also addressing concerns of labor availability and cost.
Overhead Trolley Conveyor vs. AGVs
An alternative to traditional conveyors and AGVs when it comes to transporting product or other materials within a warehouse or DC, an overhead trolley conveyor may prove to be the ideal solution for your operation.
These systems can be either powered or non-powered. They typically operate as a chain riding within an enclosed track, in a closed-loop configuration. A secondary fixture such as a hanger, trolley, or wire basket will typically hang from the chain to accommodate whatever material is being transported.
Overhead Trolley Conveyors are best suited for specific loads, and may prove ideal in operations:
- Transporting empty corrugated cartons, totes, or trash
- Transporting/handling/sorting garments on a hanger (GOH)
- Hanging of goods through paint line applications
- Handling of heavy parts through the manufacturing process
Automated Guided Carts (AGCs) vs. AGVs
Like AGVs, Automated Guided Carts (AGCs) can be used to move inventory, supplies, and materials from place to place within your facility, allowing you to free up labor to perform other, more valuable tasks. But while similar, they differ in important ways.
For starters, whereas AGVs can navigate a facility based on a number of different technologies (including LiDAR, cameras, etc.) AGCs typically navigate along a magnetic strip that is placed along their desired path, which is relatively easy and inexpensive to change. The systems can also be modular, allowing for slow and steady expansion as it becomes necessary.
AGVs are also capable of moving considerably larger weights than AGCs, which often top out around 6,000 pounds for towing and 4,000 pounds for carrying (though the exact capacities will depend on the manufacturer and model). That being said, AGCs can be capable of handling everything from totes, boxes, and cases all the way up to larger pallets.
Because of their reduced size, AGCs can often cost about half as much as a conventional AGV, making them an ideal solution for an operation that does not have the funds for a fleet of traditional AGVs.
The Bottom Line
Though your mind might immediately turn to AGVs, warehouses, DCs, and factories looking to automate their operations have a number of options at their disposal. AGVs are just one of a number of tools that may help you meet your automation goals. Automated Guided Carts (AGCs), more traditional conveyors, automated storage and retrieval, and overhead trolleys are also technologies that you can leverage to increase efficiency and productivity while decreasing reliance on costly and often unreliable labor.