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How Material Handling Systems are Automated

By Logistics Tech Outlook | Thursday, November 21, 2019

Conveying systems, vital in the production department and representative of the industrial assembly line, are very useful in warehouses for transferring goods from "A" to "B," in the simplest scenario, as well as along complex paths.

FREMONT, CA: Material handling, also known as intra-logistics, represents an increasingly strategic choice for businesses, which produce and sell tangible goods, as the optimization of all the processes can speed up operation times, cut expenses and enhance customer service. But how does one do it?

The tools available to optimize the management of warehouses are plentiful. Some are for storage, others for monitoring the grounds, machines, and data (management software, sensors), and a few for the workforce (beacon receivers, wearable devices).

Besides, automated systems are outfitted with tools that can weigh, sort, and group the products. Below are the critical methods for material handling in mechanized warehouses: shuttles, conveyors with a decision point, and AGVs (automated guided vehicles).

1. The shuttles

These vehicles do not fear heavy loads. Depending on the tonnage, they can move packages or large pallets weighing anything from a few tons to quintals. They are ideal for businesses that have to manage a high volume of pallets and involve excessive loading or unloading activities.

The categorization of shuttles varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Still, they are broadly divided among models for horizontal transport and models that move elements from bottom to top and vice versa, generally used in vertical warehouses with multiple shelves stretching from the floor to the ceiling.

A shuttle usually comprises mechanisms for hooking the goods, traction and lifting motors, driving controls (joystick or instrument panel with display and buttons), and a space for the personnel (cabin, seat, or platform).

2. Conveyors with decision points

Conveying systems, vital in the production department and representative of the industrial assembly line, are very useful in warehouses for transferring goods from "A" to "B," in the simplest scenario, as well as along complex paths.

Roller conveyors and conveyor belts not only move forward or backward swiftly or slowly but also classify, weigh, and measure. Typically they are systems that need little maintenance and do not considerably add to the running overheads of the warehouse.

The automatic activity of moving on a sliding belt is linked with a logical movement, entrusted to decision points.

These are crucial elements of the system where decisions are made and where it is essential to communicate the weight or passage of goods. The combination of the essentials and the modular design of the conveyor belts makes it likely to set up the most suitable conveying system in terms of distance, configuration, trajectories, speed, and actions for the handled goods.

The trend is to restrict conveyors to the points at which the material enters and leaves the contemporary warehouse to occupy the least probable space and ensure the utmost flexibility of the warehouse area.

3. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

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AGVs are the most advanced form of automated material handling. They come in all sizes and shapes with driverless technologies. Additionally, they accustom themselves employing sensors that offer information on the guide path between the points of departure and arrival.

Some AGVs are equipped with optical sensors that permit them to follow the trail of a reflective strip on the ground. They also help read any barcodes along the way at points where it is essential. Therefore, the process helps in deciding if the vehicle should turn left, right, or around an object or stop. Vehicles with magnetic sensors, on the other hand, orientate themselves as per the magnetic references on the floor.

The most commonly used navigation system for industrial applications is the laser system. A chain of reflectors around the perimeter make it probable to detect the position of every individual vehicle in real-time using a triangulation system. The vehicles are set with safety systems like audible warning devices, flashing lights, side skirts, physical and virtual bumpers with laser technology to avoid accidental collisions with objects or people.

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