The vision-guided robotic industrial truck "is not your grandfather's [automated guided vehicle]," says Noble. It navigates by vision rather than lasers, magnets or wires embedded in the floor. Unlike its predecessors, it doesn't require any infrastructure changes to the facility, eliminating a cost that can be "prohibitive." On its first time through an assigned route, the unit takes pictures three times a second in 360 degrees, then compresses the images into a 3D map, which serves as its subsequent means of orientation. Operators are trained to reprogram the robot whenever necessary. Routes can be modified on a daily basis.
The vehicles work especially well in warehousing and manufacturing facilities. They can be deployed to bring parts to the line, or product to receiving docks. Operators need only place a pallet on the robot and tell it the destination. They do not have to leave their stations, Noble says.
The technology can be applied to a wide variety of commodities. "We're moving pallets around," says Noble. "The product on the pallet doesn't matter at that point."
Another valuable addition to distribution operations is the tugger robot, a vehicle that tows trailers. "We've identified this as the low-hanging fruit in the marketplace for operations to save money," Noble says.
Customers are being drawn to the new equipment because the technology has matured, and computing power has grown, to the point of feasibility. In the past, Noble says, it might have required a supercomputer to take and process images acquired in the training stage. "Now it's a small computer under the hood."
The technology can be successfully deployed in a number of operations, although a "good gauge" is a 200,000-square-foot facility with about 200 loads per day being moved. Most users can realize a return on investment within 12 months or less, Noble claims.
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Keywords: supply chain, supply chain management, inventory control, logistics management, warehouse management, inventory management systems, warehouse management systems, WMS
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