Thursday, 6 July 2017

Automated Guided Vehicle Market - Drivers and Growth Analysis

Manufacturing and assembly processes require goods to be constantly moved from one location to another. To help the flow of goods, in pre-industrialized era humans had to do the laborious task of shifting materials every time. After the industrial revolution and adoption of assembly line in the early 1900’s, materials were moved with the help of a powered platform truck on a rail track. Later, as the demand for more efficient equipment was felt during WW1, a combination of horizontal cart and vertical lifting capabilities was used, which would also function as a portable elevator. Soon, followed the introduction of forklifts which proved to be a turning point in the development of material handling system. During the WW2, the world witnessed significant technological advancements and introduction of new developments for increased demand of more efficient operations which would reach high heights without misbalancing heavy loads. Later, automation paved way for more sophisticated and efficient material handling machines capable of doing a wide array of movements apart from horizontal and vertical movements using technologies like laser, etc. to give rise to Automated Guiding Vehicles (AGV).

An automated guided vehicle is a robot which traces input via laser or tape and produces output in the form of physical motion. They are widely used in industrial applications to move materials in a manufacturing facility without human guidance. Basically, they are used in places where high amount of repetitive work is involved and tasks which require negligible human interaction and decision making. They function as automated transport system in production, warehouse and logistic environments. Their movement is governed by computer software and sensor based guidance systems. There are several types of automated guided vehicles like wired automated guiding vehicle which uses radio signal transmission for steering and guidance, guide taped automated guiding vehicle which uses magnetic tape for steering and control, laser assisted target automated guiding vehicle which uses laser transmitter and receiver along with a reflector map stored in its memory, vision guidance automated guiding vehicle which uses specially designed stereo camera along with 360 degree images and 3-D maps of the pathways for precise navigation, geo-guidance automated guiding vehicle is more sophisticated as it recognizes its environment and navigates in a more versatile manner.

Automated guidance vehicles facilitate increased operational efficiency by introducing accountability of misplaced items, providing line balancing in multiple operations, minimizing labour costs, improved facility maintenance capabilities by having collision avoidance system, improved flexibility of operations and material handling, reduced operating cost by automating processes, provide increased safety and reliability, improved scalability in workload handling, on-time and scheduled delivery of materials and reduction in product damage, thereby reducing material handling costs. They are used in industrial applications involving handling of raw materials, work-in-process movement, finished goods movement, pallet handling, and trailer loading and unloading, roll handling, container handling, etc.

However, automated guidance vehicles have eliminated human jobs and this has caused gradual decline in employment opportunities in the industrial areas, across the world. There is a prediction going on in industries that automation will take up most of the human jobs and this has caused significant concerns. These concerns could be a restraining factor for the growth of automated guided vehicles. In addition to this, the upfront capital investment required by the industries to make a shift towards automation is also said to a restraining factor for its growth.

Automated guided vehicles are being widely used in many end-use industries like pharmaceuticals, chemical, manufacturing, automotive, paper & print, food & beverage, hospital, warehousing, e-commerce, etc. Companies have reported increased work capacity, reduced labour expenses and lower operator involvement by implementing automated guided systems in their production facilities. The world has witnessed a gradual rise in the use of automated machines in this decade and this trend is expected to continue in the near future. Now, automated guidance vehicles have improved diagnostic capabilities to help their operators have better monitoring of its performance. Recent technological advancements include real-time data analytics tools, which empower the operator to detect potential issues and predict future work processes with more precision. The shift of material handling and work processes from humans to semi-automated to fully automated with latest technological advances like Global Positioning System (GPS), in-built processing and storage functionalities and improved navigational capabilities within an environment like a warehouse, have made industrial tasks even simpler, cleaner and more efficient.

Improved work efficiency and the need for more automated processes in industrial applications is expected to drive the market of automated guiding systems.