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Warehouse Automation - Beyond the Forklift

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

When I was working in a warehouse, we used forklifts, reach trucks, and order pickers to move pallets and boxes around the facility. Each of these required an operator/warehouse person to manually load/unload from rack to equipment to staging area to truck for shipping and the reverse for receiving. Robotics are being introduced to reduce labour associated with material handling. You have likely seen YouTube videos of unmanned vehicles that move products or materials within a warehouse facility. The two types of these vehicles are automatic guided vehicles (AGV) and autonomous mobile robots (AMR).


Automatic guided vehicles have less onboard intelligence than AMRs. AGVs follow programmed instructions and fixed routes. They are guided by wires, magnetic strips, and/or sensors that are installed in the operating facility. More advance AGVs may choose from multiple routes depending on efficiency parameters. A downside of AGVs is that they may become stuck if the designated path is obstructed.


Autonomous mobile robot is the more advanced of the two unmanned vehicles. It is much more flexible because it can navigate itself within the facility. It may use data from cameras, sensors, and laser scanners along with advance software to optimize its path. It can also avoid obstructions. They are more able to adapt to reorganization/expansion of the warehouse facilities as only software updates are required while an AGV may require both software updates and new hardware installed in the facility.

There are many companies offering warehouse automation solutions. You will have to research available technologies and costs to your facility as each situation is unique. A3 Association for Advancing Automation is an association of automation companies offering information with the goal of promoting their industry.


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