How Automated Guided Vehicles can Increase Productivity
With retailer events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, holiday shopping has taken a large shift to the online space. According to Adobe Analytics, in 2019, online shoppers in the U.S. are expected to spend $143.7 billion in November and December, with $29 billion being spent during the 5-day period of Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday.
Not only are e-commerce order volumes continuing to climb, but so are customer expectations. What used to be viewed as a perk is now an expected standard. Think about next-day or two-day shipping – expedited shipping used to be something that allowed retailers to stand out. Now, if customers can’t receive their order within the next couple of days, it’s on to the next website, and your competition is just a click away. Delivery speed and customer experiences have never been more vital.
Whether your peak season is during the winter holidays, back-to-school time, or any day in-between, combating fluctuating order demand isn’t something you do overnight. You should plan to streamline everyday demand, but find a solution that is flexible and scalable to also tackle peak periods. One of the most effective and reliable solutions to minimize downtime and add efficiency is through automated guided vehicles (AGVs). But not all AGVs are created equal, and finding the right type of automation is crucial.
Finding the Right Automated Guided Vehicle
To best accommodate your day-to-day material handling flow as well as your busiest peaks, you should find a solution that is both flexible and scalable. In addition to easily adjusting to temporary changes, you will also want the ability to quickly adapt to future growth — whether that means a change in your procedures or moving your chosen technology to a different facility completely — without jeopardizing operational goals.
As you know, even minor interruptions in production can have a serious impact. That's why traditional AGVs that navigate based on built-in physical infrastructure — following wires or magnetic tape embedded in the floor or using lasers with reflectors placed throughout your facility — can impede continuous improvement. When things change, you would need to tear up your existing infrastructure and rebuild — costing you extended downtime and money.
The ability to eliminate the reliance on such substructures provides much more flexibility. Seegrid vision guided vehicles (VGVs) are infrastructure-free and designed to provide maximum reliability in dynamic environments by using an industry-proven vision technology system. These self-driving vehicles navigate using stereoscopic cameras, collecting and interpreting thousands of data points every second to create a 3D map of their environment – the most robust navigation system in the industry.
This technology not only enables VGVs to react to a fast-paced, always-changing environment with people and material on the move, but the vehicles can easily be retrained for new routes to match changes in your process. Simply drive the vehicle through the new route one time, and it is ready to take on your new challenge. No need to shut down production or wait on a service representative for reprogramming. Other infrastructure-free options in the market require you to have a service representative come out to your facility to make adjustments, costing you extensive downtime, money for the service, and lost profits.
Building a Safer Environment: Collaborate with Automation
Some of the biggest challenges warehouses face during peak season are connected to labor and staffing. With industry growth outpacing the labor pool, finding quality labor is extremely difficult – and retaining it is even harder. Many companies attempt to bulk up their staffing to accommodate the influx of orders. But when the facility itself isn’t getting any bigger, overcrowding becomes a major productivity and safety issue. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported nearly 40,000 serious forklift accidents occur each year.
By integrating automation to work in unison with human workers, you can increase your throughput, cut costs, and create a safer work environment. Start by automating repetitive tasks and redeploying employees to high-value tasks. This keeps employees safer and happier.
As you plan for automation, keep in mind the following:
- Find the right type of automation for your application
- Do your research, because not all AGVs are created equal
- Find a solution that is flexible to change with your needs
- Think about the big picture for your facility – not just peaks
- Start small, evaluate, adjust, and scale
Want to learn more best practices to brace for the seasonal surge?
Watch our webinar “Seasonal Surge: How to Put Automation to Work — Today & Tomorrow.”