Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) have been augmenting internal logistics for some time now, and the technology has proved to be extremely valuable, though not perfect, in Industry 4.0 initiatives to increase automation.
Having AGVs perform menial, repetitive tasks in warehouses for example has led to greater efficiency where expensive or under-utilised resources were previously acting – not to mention the atemporal nature of the machines allowing 24/7/365 scheduled operations.
Despite this, there is a new technology in town here to succeed the AGV. Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs) may sound similar in name, however they are a leap forward both in technology terms and financially.
AGVs and AMRs can be most easily distinguished by what essentially comes down to their smarts.
AGVs typically do not feature any significant on-board intelligence and are therefore limited to simple programming instructions.
Limiting them further is their reliance on a guidance infrastructure, usually made up of sensors, reflectors, wires or magnetic strips which allow the AGV to navigate its programmed route.
Like trains on tracks, they cannot stray from their pre-determined path, making them inflexible and prone to obstruction by obstacles they cannot manoeuvre around.
AMRs, on the other hand, are more like self-driving cars. Pre-loaded with navigational maps and diagrams, they are able to move about the workspace without any restrictions. They can even use their on-board computers, in combination with built-in cameras and sensors, to infer what the best route is to reach their task, and when there are multiple AMRs, decide which robot is best suited to carry out the operation.
These capabilities also allow it to avoid obstacles and dynamically determine alternative paths to objectives, avoiding workplace accidents or a stunted task-flow.
Judging by the differences on paper, one might assume that AMRs would be significantly more expensive.
However, that is not the case, and it mainly comes down to the infrastructural and time demands of AGVs as they exist today.
While an AMR unit itself may be costlier than an AGV, the latter requires expensive infrastructure to support it.
There is not only a spend for the installation of that infrastructure, but also a cost for the hours your workspace is on hold while installation occurs.
You can add to those costs the lack of application flexibility.
Because your AGV can only attend to what the installed sensors, wires or magnetic strips provision for it to do, it cannot be retooled for new tasks without serious time and cost implications.
An AMR would not present the same issue, needing only a relatively fast software update to be on its way to completing a new task.
In the Industry 4.0 world, automation, optimisation and agile work methods are vital for success.
AMRs allow for this by being adaptable to several tasks with minimal latency, reaping the kind of ROI, important for any industrial purchase, that an AGV can rarely achieve. The future is all about Autonomous Mobile Robots.