At one time, the height of warehouse automation was the conveyor belt. In the past several years, automation has improved dramatically with the cost-effective availability of robots. Not only that, robots continue to evolve, now needing fewer restrictions—such as tracks or cables—to move about and complete a task.
Welcome to the brave new world of business process improvement via robots in the warehouse. Already, AGVs (automated guided vehicles) are being used in warehouses to save workers steps and companies money. AGVs aren’t as smart as robots in science fiction movies, nor are you in danger of a robot revolution overthrowing your managers. What robots can and will do is tackle tedious warehouse tasks without complaint.
Nimble Robots in Rows
The newer breed of AGVs can transport thousands of pounds of goods through a warehouse without the need of drivers or operators. They can be easily programmed to navigate busy warehouses without mistakes. Machines created by Clearpath Robotics, for example, traverse large warehouses to efficiently gather orders and shuttle them to waiting distribution points.
Previous iterations of AGVs couldn’t navigate through the labyrinth of shelves, bins, and pallets in the average warehouse. They ran on a track, like a railroad car, along a preset path. The newest breed of AGVs moves independently, without a track, and represents a breakthrough in robotic technology that can make warehouses more efficient.
Breakthroughs with AGVs
Basic AGV systems run on a track, like a monorail or a train car, and have censors at a predetermined height that can read barcodes. For example, Kiva System’s robotic AGV can scan barcodes that are about three feet from the ground. Integrated warehouses must be designed to accommodate the needs of these systems for the robots to run effectively.
Considering that some warehouses exceed 100,000 square feet, the adoption of older AGV systems and tracks could be quite costly. Warehouses had to be retrofitted with tracks, electronics, barcodes, and shelves at the appropriate heights for the system to work well.
Another drawback to the older AGVs was they could run over people nearby. An errant human could step right in the path of a speeding AGV or walk between the scanner and the barcode, disrupting the entire process.
The new AGVs are different. Their fresh technology enables the AGV to run without a track. Censors pick up the presence of people nearby and stop or slow the machine sufficiently for safety. Onboard computers can process through choices and react in ways that enable it to interact safely around people and choose its course. The result is the first truly independent warehouse AGV that represents an enormous breakthrough in the world of warehousing and distribution.
Robots Won’t Fully Replace People
Even with these and other future powerful innovations, AGVs and the use of other automated technology in the warehouse still cannot replace people. The human mind is creative and flexible, enabling people to solve complex problems, spot errors that machines can’t, and create new ways of doing things.
Sometime in the future, we may have robots smart enough to run warehouses with minimal human input. Until that day comes, innovations such as the independent AGV that can work alongside people in the warehouse represent that best of all possible worlds. After all, who wants to haul 3,000 pounds of packages through a warehouse on their own? Ask the AGV—it doesn’t mind!
Integrate Your Warehouse with PositiveVision
The best AGV solutions will be ones that integrate with your warehouse management software. Find the best warehouse management software—or start building the software foundation to later add AGVs—with the help of PositiveVision. With extensive experience in the Chicago IT consultant marketplace, we have partnered with hundreds of businesses to support process improvement through software innovation. Ready to plot your course? PositiveVision has the human smarts you need to build your warehouse’s robotic future.