Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are increasingly seen gliding their way around warehouses throughout the U.S. While there are several terms used to refer to these vehicles, including: operator-less forklifts, self-guided vehicles (SGVs), guided carts, and driverless vehicles, what each share is clean, quiet, automatic-guided material handling. Pallet storage, picking, staging and truck loading are some of the common jobs assigned to AGV equipment, but why the upward trend toward their use? Justification for AGV integration includes improving order fulfillment efficiency and accuracy, pressure to reduce operating costs while boosting pick rates, changes in shift work, and difficulty in hiring and retaining dependable forklift operators – to name a few.
Integrating guided vehicles to work within your specific storage system, inventory specs and application requires careful design consideration. They are often equipped with features such as ultrasonic sensors, audible and visual operating indicators, emergency stop buttons, and contact bumpers to ensure fast throughput combined with safe rack/vehicle interface.
Let’s look at a few pallet rack-AGV equipment configurations…
Pallet Rack Meets AGV
First, it is important to note that every AGV is not created equal. So, when you decide on the pallet racking system that will be most effective for your needs, ensure that the AGV specified is designed to work specifically with that racking system.
Systems that work well with AGVs include:
- Standard Selective Rack – 100% selectivity
- Double Deep Selective Rack – 100% selectivity, double the pallet capacity
- Pallet Flow Rack –High density FIFO inventory
- Push-Back (Cart) System – 2-7 deep LIFO inventory
- Drive-In/Drive-Thru Pallet Rack – high density LIFO/FIFO inventory
Standard Selective Rack – Selective pallet rack-AGV integrations are probably the most common. AGVs can be laser guided or controlled using floor-based markers that direct the vehichle to the pallet location for loading or picking. AGVs are available for standard aisle and narrow aisle configurations. Narrow aisle configurations further increase the efficiencies found in AGV use by opening up expensive cubic storage for other rack or warehousing applications… think especially cold-store and freezer space.
AGVs used in combination with double-deep selective systems have the potential to double storage capacity while taking advantage of automated efficiencies. Pallet guides can be used to ensure proper pallet placement in the bay.
Pallet Flow Rack – Pallet flow is loaded and picked from separate aisles, so consideration must be given to floor space availability. However, pallet flow can be designed as a deep-lane application thereby ultimately saving floor space for the right high-volume, high to medium turnover inventory. When integrating pallet flow with AGVs it is recommended to configure the lane with accessories that enhance the effectiveness and overall system safety. Accessories such as pallet separators that provide a small separation between the pick face pallet and the rear pallets can be valuable in ensuring that the front pallet is easily removable without fear of catching on the pallet to the rear. In addition, stops can be mounted on the ends of the lane at the pick face to further secure the front pallet in the lane as it comes to a rest from advancing down the lane.
Push-Back Cart System – If your inventory flow and volume are best served by something more than a single-deep configuration but not necessarily a deep-lane set-up, then push-back cart might be a good option. AGVs are available to interface with the carts as simply as they would with other static and dynamic pallet storage systems. Typically cart lanes are 2-5 pallets deep.
Drive-In/Drive-Thru Pallet Rack – For high-volume inventory with the same or limited SKUs a high-density system like drive-in can be very valuable for organized efficient storage while minimizing the racking system footprint. The system can be designed with a single AGV access or set up as a drive-thru system with separate load and pick entry points for the AGVs.
If AGV integration sounds like something you’d at least like to explore, give the Apex Warehouse Systems team a call. We’ve designed and installed simple to complex operations for all different warehousing climates and inventory, and we share your common goal of increasing efficiencies and reducing operating costs. Let us put our expertise to work for you!