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  May 10, 2016
The end of AGCs in favor of VGVs
by Thomas R. Cutler

Lack of Innovation and Limited Payloads Drive Automotive Purchasing Professions to Drop Automated Guided Carts (AGCs) in Favor of Vision-Guided Vehicles The automotive industry (leading North American and European manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers) have been frequent purchasers of automated guide carts (AGCs) over the past two decades. Most AGCs have been modified with custom engineered-to-order (ETO) solutions.

Since 2013 these leading automotive manufactures have encountered the limitations and lack of innovation in AGCs and are opting instead for vision-guided vehicles (VGVs) which include tuggers/tow tractors, pallet trucks, lift trucks/reach trucks, counterbalance trucks, very narrow aisles (VNA), unit load trucks, side loaders, and stackers.

Automotive industry applications include parts-to-line, putaway, long hauls, end-of-line, staging and sortation, sequencing, trash removal, cross docking, trailer unloading/loading, roll handling, deep lane putaway, and deep lane floor storage.

Since AGCs are old technology and automotive manufacturers are leaders in lean manufacturing best-practice solutions. AGCs can transport less than 100 lbs. and up to 5,000 lbs. Low end AGCs are a low-cost investment in theory, but the ETO manufacturers tack on engineering resources, project management, and installation costs dramatically increasing the total product price. Cost effective VGVs are a better automation solution for the money.

There is no doubt the annualized costs of fork lift drivers are simply too high and drives a rapid ROI (return-on-investment) in the automotive sector. The salary of a U.S. materials handling worker or forklift operator often ranges $44,000-$78,000 annually. This does not include employer training and worker compensation costs. Average annual overtime for these positions is $11,250. The annual salary of a European materials handling worker or forklift operator ranges between 39,000€ - 60,000€.

Automotive experts acknowledge that the real limit of AGCs include the lack of route flexibility, navigation infrastructure is insufficient, and poor durability; and that safety lasers are frequently not included with base vehicle. Additionally, the AGC has low towing capacities, and nearly all require engineering resources and CAD experience required to make route and vehicle changes. Ultimately the AGC lacks scalability, has limited path lengths, and cumbersome battery size.

AGVs are preferred versus AGCs by automotive manufacturers and their suppliers because custom solutions available with fully automated solutions. AGVs have the capability of fully automating a human operated application, offering a variety of navigation solutions, improving facility safety, reducing labor and operating costs, and increasing efficiency and productivity.

With AGC at the bottom of the innovation technology ladder, AGVs are the next level of innovation; 2016 - 2020 will be the time of the automotive industry VGV purchasing acceleration. VGVs are offering the top automotive manufacturers flexible, infrastructure-free navigation allowing efficient route changes by facility staff while offering a timely installation of vehicles which can travel very long routes (as far as 15 miles). Because engineering resources or CAD work is not needed to make vehicle and route changes, there is a low total cost of ownership. Since VGV vehicles built off standard and familiar industrial truck platforms, and VGVs are serviced and supported by in-house maintenance staff, the future of VGVs in automotive manufacturing plants of 400,000 square feet or more is outstanding. AGCs are the past; VGVs are the present and future.

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler, Inc., (www.trcutlerinc.com) Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 6000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler is the most published freelance industrial journalist worldwide and is now the host of Kanbanversation, a weekly episodic video discussion. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com and can be followed on Twitter @ThomasRCutler. See More Details.

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