Automatic guided vehicles

Industry sales projections for 2012 remain strong, bolstered by key selling points such as flexibility, versatility, and evolutionary advances in controls.


Continued strong sales of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and systems are projected for the remainder of 2012, according to the Automatic Guided Vehicle Systems (AGVS) Industry Group of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA). This extends the increase in sales of new, retrofit, and expanded systems noted by the group at Modex 2012 in February.

With the advent of Microsoft Windows-based control systems and software, users can now obtain more graphical, visual reports that give information about the entire AGV system. Courtesy: Jervis B. Webb“In 2011, AGVS member companies saw dollar sales of $108 million, including 925 vehicles and 130 systems sold,” noted Sarah Carlson of Daifuku Webb and chair of AGVS. “Compared to 2007—the last year before the great recession—that’s nearly a 25% increase in sales, more than a 70% increase in number of vehicles and more than a 25% increase in number of systems.”

Further, said Carlson, the combined numbers for 2010 and 2011 were particularly strong, with total sales exceeding $200 million for the two years combined. This represents installation of nearly 1,700 vehicles and 240 systems cumulatively.

“Halfway through 2012, our industry continues to see a high level of interest and many orders already on the books,” said Carlson. “The economy continues to improve and more companies are looking to add automation to further increase productivity and lower their operating costs.”

Manufacturing operations continue to be the primary end users of AGVs, said Randy Winger, Dematic Corp. and vice chair of AGVS: “In 2011, manufacturing accounted for 75% of all systems, with the remaining 25% in distribution centers.”

Facilities are investing in AGV systems because of their inherent flexibility and scalability, Winger said. The bulk of that flexibility can be attributed to a continuous evolution of the controls and software that direct the vehicles’ travel and tasks.

For real-time control and monitoring of multiple units, the software uses wireless connections to collect data, then interfaces with upper level programmable logic control (PLC) systems or TCP/IP software for destination and routing logic. The software directs the vehicles’ travel by wirelessly communicating specific tasks to the AGVs via radio frequency (RF) transponders and tags. Instructions include stops, starts, changing speed, lifting, lowering, multipoint turns, reverses, diverging from the guidepath, and interfacing with other material handling equipment and systems—both automated and static.

The flexibility of the controls allows one AGV model to be outfitted with a choice of guidance system options. The most popular are magnetic tape, magnetic bar, laser, and optical sensors. In certain applications, one AGV might employ more than one guidance system, said Winger. “For example, in a truck-loading application, an AGV will use one guidance methodology outside the truck and a different, more localized guidance methodology once inside the truck.”

Automation Guided Vehicle (AGV) Applications



Assembly: Moving products through production processes


Kitting: Collecting parts for assembly


Transportation: Loading pallets and loose parts


Staging: Delivering pallets for production processes


Warehousing: Moving products from stretch wrappers to docks or storage


Order Picking: Moving ordered products to trailer-loading area for distribution


Parts/Just-In-Time (JIT) Delivery: Towing trailers of parts/materials to consumption points


Transfer/Shuttle: Transfer loads across high-traffic aisles



Today’s AGV systems can be reconfigured to new paths in a matter of minutes with the advent of point-and-click, drag-and-drop graphics in the control software, Winger continued.

“It’s very easy to pull up a graphical display of the path, make a change, and execute the path visually, on screen, to confirm that it will work in your system. Once the new path is set to go live, in less than two seconds the vehicles will start following it,” he said. “Conversely, it’s very easy to restore the original path if the changes don’t yield the desired throughput.”

With the advent of Microsoft Windows-based control systems and software, continued Carlson, users can now obtain more graphical, visual reports that give information about the entire AGV system. The software constantly collects, retains, and conveys system data for analysis to help ensure the maximum operational effectiveness of the AGV fleet. “The control software makes it very easy for users to track charging, maintenance, downtime, and other productivity metrics to keep their system performing as it should,” she said.

Further, added Carlson, the AGV units themselves are now equipped with human machine interface (HMI) screens that make it easier to pinpoint, troubleshoot, and diagnose any problems that may develop. “The HMI provides specific information about what’s going on with that vehicle, whether that is a battery that’s low on charge, information about the vehicle’s location within its system, or information about what prompted an emergency stop,” she said.

Should the issue be beyond the user’s capacity to solve, the AGVs and their control software system can also be accessed remotely by their supplier for additional diagnostics and support—all functions that were unavailable even just a few years ago.

AGVS Industry Group members are suppliers of AGV system worldwide and in virtually every major manufacturing and distribution sector. The AGVS Industry Group is an independent authority for end users and suppliers on market trends, standards, technology developments, and applications. The group’s mission is to promote the market growth and effective use of AGVs in manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, and other key markets.

- Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering,, using information from Automatic Guided Vehicle Systems (AGVS) Industry Group of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA).


AGV case studies, information 

Members of the AGVS Industry Group 

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