Look before you leap – anyone considering automating their warehouse needs to first address a fundamental question: does it make sense to implement automation in view of my business model, my processes and my employees? Only when the answer is a loud-and-clear “yes” is it worth diving into the details. SIMPLEXITY provides information and insights.
Automation, even on a small scale, begins with good planning and the right mindset. “Before getting down to the nuts and bolts of infrastructure, you need to be fully aware of the far-reaching consequences of automated processes,” states Frank Heptner, Senior Director, Sales and Realization, Automation & Intralogistics, EMEA, at Linde Material Handling. “The deployment of AGVs means the onboarding of “new co-workers” who have to be integrated into legacy environments, and who need space – both physical, e.g. between racking and aisles, and mentally, in terms of headspace, amongst human staff,” emphasizes Heptner.
If there is enough space, and the right mindset is assured, then it is time to move on to detailed infrastructure planning:
Lighting in warehouses varies greatly in quality, but needs close examination prior to automation. AGVs often navigate by means of “seeing” physical structures in their surroundings. If AGVs rely on optical sensors, then poor lighting can blindside them. Consideration has to be given to the time of day, the seasons, and incidental sunlight through windows. The shape and character of goods being conveyed, and even their packaging, may cause issues. For example, there can be unexpected reflections that interfere with visual identification.
Thought has to be given, too, to the flooring. For AGVs to move swiftly and reliably through any facility, they need smooth, flat ground. This means rectifying any bumps or unevenness in advance to ensure the seamless flow of traffic. Further obstacles include steep inclines and extremely slippery floor coverings that might cause an AGV to slide off course when starting, accelerating or braking.
The right infrastructure not only entails hardware such as lighting systems and flooring, it also means having the right software. Key requirements are a powerful warehouse management system and an intelligent material flow control solution. In addition to ensuring the smooth movement of goods, these also deliver the information and transparency that are vital to an automated facility. The data enables all core processes to be accurately modeled and seamlessly managed.
WLAN (Wi-Fi) interface
The deployment of AGVs requires a reliable, stable and broadband WLAN (Wi-Fi) interface. After all, the vehicles need to continue operating during the lunch break while employees are busy swapping the latest gossip via WhatsApp. AGVs continuously communicate with each other and the central control software via the local Wi-Fi network. And this has to be powerful enough to support the large number of connections. In many cases, it is advisable to establish a separate, dedicated network just for AGV communications.