Autonomous Guided Vehicles
The local warehouse business has been challenged by increasing costs in manpower and floor areas. There is also additional pressure to provide more value-added services, such as handling small orders for e-commerce. Usage of autonomous vehicles in warehouse can reduce manpower costs, optimize use of floor area, bring quicker responses to orders and execute more accurate operations, thus increasing the overall competitiveness of local warehouse businesses.
In this project, methods and software were developed to provide dynamic planning and cooperative control of autonomous vehicles’ actions. Application software technologies for the interaction among the vehicles and the operators were also developed. The system can be operated under a dense placement of storage racks, which are wholly managed by autonomous vehicles. The racks will be moved in accordance with the operational needs of the warehouse during operations of stock in, stock out and pick and pack. As orders are continuously fed into the system, and tasks handled by human operators and autonomous vehicles may deviate from the plan, there will be ongoing needs of re-planning of tasks, including vehicle movement trajectories and storage rack placement tactics. The dynamic planning software shall take all available input and provide support to ensure a smooth operation of the combined human and robot workforce. The cooperative control software will provide a real time platform for all vehicles to share information and work well with each other on the factory floor.
The project was pilot-run at the warehouses of Towngas to provide local support and maintenance. They will be using the AGV solution to evaluate the efficiency gain of the automation system. Due to a large number of SKUs, including large and small parts for all model types of their supported products, the quantity of parts needed by each maintenance team is small while the collection time window is tight. We integrated our system with Towngas’ barcode system to manage their parts and developed a revised workflow for them.
With minor modification to the planning software, this AGV solution can also be adopted by other businesses such as mini-storage.