FEATURE Robotics & Motion Control

Driving your business forward with

AGVs - and the mistakes to avoid By Dr. Nicola Tomatis, CEO, BlueBotics


eveloping Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) could literally drive your business forward into the future,

creating huge opportunities and growth for years to come. There are, however, some mistakes to avoid if you want to get AGV implementation right fi rst time and optimise your investment.

1: Know your application Every industry has its own specific needs, and you need to be clear about the goals you want your AGV to achieve. A generic AGV designed to suit a broad range of applications may seem a good option but you could well end up with a solution that doesn’t quite fit any industry. Understand the needs of your market and define what success looks like for that AGV. Speak to market experts who know your target sector well and potential customers, to completely understand the features your vehicle needs and those it doesn’t. For example, do not spend a lot of time and investment in sub-centimeter positioning accuracy if you are looking to grow in the warehousing market, where an accuracy of one centimeter is more than adequate. If you over-complicate your specification, you could end up blowing your project budget and developing an unsuccessful product.

2: Have the right people There are two points here: having the right skill sets and the right number of people. For example, you will need a roboticist who is skilled in mechanical, electronic and computer engineering to understand the total workings of the vehicle. You should also consider the size of your team and make sure that any area of knowledge doesn’t reside with just one person. A team with overlapping roles will reduce risks if someone leaves, even if some people only work on the project part-time. Also, make sure to record project design and decision making well, to make it as easy as possible for new team members to get up to speed.

16 June 2021 | Automation

3: Be careful where you cut costs! Cutting corners on hardware at the beginning of a project often leads to more expense overall. An accurate vehicle needs accurate measurements, which comes from using robust, high-quality components. A saving of $50 on parts that control steering, speed or traction may compromise the performance of a $100,000 vehicle, and make it more diffi cult to install and maintain. If you start with market-leading components and get your vehicle working perfectly, you can then always compare costs with standard alternatives and evaluate if engineering in cost savings will give you return on investment.

4: Automating a manual vehicle is the obvious way to go. Wrong! In theory, any vehicle can be automated but, in practice, the time and pain involved in converting a manual vehicle will likely take longer with many more challenges than creating a vehicle designed from the ground up for automatic operation. Even if your navigation technology partner off ers a fl exible, accurate solution and has expert robotics engineers to support integration with your vehicle, do not underestimate the complexity of automating a manual vehicle. Mechanical steering mechanisms will require a motor and encoder to be installed; mechanical throttles and brakes will need to be electrifi ed, and built-in safety features designed to mitigate human error will need to be adapted to provide the

reactivity needed for automation. This path to automation could well add more diffi culty, expense and potential points of failure to your project.

5: Don’t forget about sales and marketing

It may seem an obvious statement, but it is surprising how many projects do not have an adequate plan or budget for a successful product launch. Think about involving sales and marketing in development meetings to get input about customer questions and feedback. Customers may also be willing to beta test or, after launch, talk about how installing your AGV has helped their business. This is great for promoting your technology but is also a platform for them to show their own work. Overall, ensure sales and marketing is a budgeted line item and integrated part of your project.

Exciting growth The use of AGVs is growing across many industries and there are many exciting applications and opportunities available. AGV development may not seem easy but, with careful planning, the right partners and awareness of some of the common pitfalls, it could become a highly successful “cash cow” for your company.



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