Automated Guided Vehicles vs. Automated Mobile Robots

You may have heard of the terms Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) and Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR). Although similar at first glance, the two technologies are completely different ways of achieving the same goal – moving materials from one place to another.

This article will explore the differences between these two solutions and analyze both of these paths’ various benefits and detriments. Technological innovations in the workplace have never been as vital as they are now, as the machines we surround ourselves with have given us incredible tools with which we can innovate our work methods.

So what is an Automated Guided Vehicle? 

Automated Guided Vehicles are elaborate systems for moving materials through workplace environments without the need for human involvement. They have been used with great success in warehouses, distribution centers, and manufacturing facilities. The tasks they are designed for are usually repetitive in nature and have either replaced or assisted more traditional solutions such as forklifts, conveyor belts, or manual carts. To ensure the sensible deployment of AGVs it is also important to remember that they excel at tasks that require a constant influx of goods and materials. 

Besides transporting raw goods, we can also deploy AGVs to other parts of the production process, for example, in work-in-process applications and for goods that are already finished. Business owners can use this technological solution to move work-in-process parts between one warehouse and another or from a warehouse to the production line. Without AGVs conducting these repetitive tasks, production lines may run out of materials and come to a halt. 

Warehouse management can also be made more efficient through the use of AGVs by ensuring that inbound and outbound products are effectively delivered. Inventory can be transported around the warehouse, for example, from long-term storage to areas requiring more immediate picking. 

How Does an AGV work?

AGV’s are self-propelled vehicles that take advantage of a number of technological solutions to move around predetermined spaces. The path an AGV moves along is predetermined by the personnel that programs it. The various solutions used to guide AGVs can be divided into two broad categories. One group encompasses solutions that require infrastructure modifications in the workplace. The second group of tech solutions does not require any extensive alterations to the workplace. We will briefly look at both groups and explain how they work. 

Solutions that Require Infrastructure Modifications 

One of the ways that AGVs can be programmed to move around warehouses is through the use of magnetic guide tape. Equipped with magnetic sensors, AGVs read the magnetic tape and follow the tape as if it were a train track. Another popular solution is the use of wire tracks. These tracks can be embedded into the workplace floor for the AGV to follow. The last two types of guidance system requiring infrastructure modifications we will look at is laser target navigation and inertial navigation. Laser target navigation requires mounting reflective tape upon various key fixed elements in the workplace, such as walls. By reflecting a laser off the tape the AGV can use a sensor system to navigate the workplace by calculating the distance and angle between objects. Inertial navigation involves embedding transponders into the floor of the workplace. The transponders ensure that the AGV is following the correct course.  

Solutions that Do Not Require Infrastructure Modifications

Now we will take a brief look at the solutions that do not require any additional modifications to the workplace. Vision guidance is one of the solutions that AGVs can employ to move around the workplace. To do so, the AGV reads a camera record of the route and relies on the recorded features to navigate. Geoguidance is another way for AGVs to navigate by using a camera to recognize objects in their surroundings. Finally, there are light detection and ranging systems. These systems require equipping the AGV with sophisticated sensors that employ laser pulses to measure the distance between the robot and obstacles. 

The Many Types of AGVs 

The family of AGV type vehicles is quite large, with different vehicles employed for various tasks. The most commonly met type of AGV is the automated guided cart. They are often used for basic sorting and stocking duties. For more specialized tasks, the industry offers other types of vehicles. When dealing with the heaviest loads, a combination of forklift, towing, and heavy burden carrier AGVs are employed. As the name suggests, a forklift AGV is simply a driverless forklift. Towing AGVs carry large loads, usually to several pick-up or drop-off sites in a workplace. They oftentimes are strung together to resemble a train. For the heaviest loads, heavy burden carriers are employed. 

Introducing Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) 

A step forward in the advancement of AGVs was the development of more sophisticated software solutions. These software solutions have imbued AMRs with more independence in the workplace. The limitations of AGVs rest in both their approach to infrastructure and their less advanced software solutions that could only move along predefined paths. AMRs are programmed with complex mapping systems that take advantage of facility drawings to navigate. This system has some similarities to GPS but is not the only way through which AMRs navigate. 

Besides possessing detailed maps of the facilities in which they operate, AMRs are also equipped with complex cameras and laser systems to navigate through their surroundings in real-time. If an obstacle appears in the path of an AMR, it will quickly calculate another route to go around it. If the same situation occurred to an AGV, the AGV would stop in its path and wait until an employee removed the obstacle from its route. 

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Uses for AMRs

AMRs can conduct many of the same tasks as AGVs, but they have found uses across many different fields due to their higher flexibility. They are not relegated only to the predictable flow of factory or warehouse work. Before exploring the other areas where AMRs have found applications, let us look at how they have changed how managing warehouses is conducted. 

Reimagining the Warehouse 

The leader in this field is, of course, Amazon. The renowned company has found numerous uses for AMRs. Besides using them for more traditional load-bearing services, Amazon has also introduced autonomous mobile picking robots, which have sped up picking and collecting goods that need to be delivered. The most costly expense of managing any warehouse is picking specific items. It is also most prone for errors to occur. By automating the process with AMRs the delivery speed is improved while diminishing the occurrence of errors. This can be done either by introducing robots that actually choose the required product or by using robots to bring to a human worker the shelf container in which the needed product rests. 

Hygienical and Medical Adoption 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, several use cases for AMRs have popped up. Introducing automated cleaning processes is a cost-effective way of maintaining the cleanliness of a premise while also assuaging the fears of clients and workers. The advanced systems employed by AMRs ensure the cleanliness of every square meter of a property. Besides scrubbing floors, we can equip these robots with systems that can administer sprayed cleaning agents or use UV lights for above-floor cleaning. 

Besides providing cleaning services, AMRs can transport dangerous waste, soiled linens, and medication in hospitals. The main advantage of these solutions is the reduction of human movement across the hospital area, limiting the spread of bacteria and viruses. The “smart” nature of AMRs also means that they can be used safely in hospitals because they can react to the unpredictable behavior and occasionally chaotic atmosphere that sometimes takes place in such workspaces. 

Security and Law Enforcement 

Another area in which AMRs have found adoption is in providing security for both private and public properties and assisting law enforcement agencies. Equipped with the appropriate programming AMRs can react to many threats and inform the authorities if the need arises. Using robots for these tasks ensures fewer humans need to risk their lives to ensure our safety while also cutting costs in this costly market. We can use AMRs for such mundane tasks as enforcing appropriate parking fees and writing down license plate numbers and more dangerous ones such as recognizing thermal anomalies in potentially hazardous packages. 

Final Mile Delivery 

The most costly part of any e-commerce system is delivering products to the customer. Surprisingly, the so-called “final mile” that separates the customer from his ordered good is responsible for most shipping costs. This is because individual package delivery is more expensive than bulk shipping. To cut these costs, AMRs have appeared as a potential solution. Deploying small autonomous robots on our sidewalks can be a cost-effective way to deliver packages by avoiding the congestion found on the streets of busy metropolises and by cutting labor costs. 

The Benefits of AGVs and AMRs 

AGVs and AMRs, when used in warehouse scenarios, have the same goal- to facilitate quicker workflows and free personnel from performing mundane, repetitive tasks. By using these technological solutions, we can ensure that production remains on target and reduce the potential for human error to impact effectiveness. These solutions also reduce the need for hard physical labor and reduce the number of workplace injuries.

Another benefit of both of these solutions is that their pricing is constant and not prone to the fluctuations that influence labor costs. They are also more cost-effective when compared to traditional solutions such as conveyor belts. Anachronistic solutions are not only more expensive but also usually take up more space. Introducing AGVs and AMRs means we can utilize warehouse space more effectively. 

How do AMRs outpace AGVs? 

As earlier in the article, despite their similarities, AMRs differ significantly from AGVs. At a basic level, they do the same tasks, yet the flexibility of AMRs is crucial for scalability and adoption across various industries. Since introducing AMRs requires no infrastructure modification, they are a much less expensive option than setting up the systems necessary for employing AGVs in a workplace environment. 

Implementing AI technology in AMRs also means they are more independent and less reliant on humans to complete tasks. They can also be programmed to perform different tasks, depending on the function required at any given time. AGVs usually serve only one mission throughout their service life. This makes them ideal for businesses that follow an agile business model and require scalability. Employing AMRs means a company can change facilities and warehouses as often as it requires without implementing the drastic infrastructure changes that AGVs need.  

The Future Belongs to Automation 

Both AGVs and AMRs will continue to find an expanding place in the workplaces of tomorrow. Automation is here to stay, and it is a testament to humanity’s creativity that we are finding new ways to use technology to create safer workplaces that make work less physically taxing for employees while increasing productivity. Technological innovation has in recent years dramatically reshaped every aspect of our lives and will continue to do so as automation, IoT, artificial intelligence make themselves part of our existence.

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