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  Manufacturing Insights   |   March, 2011
Material Handling Automation: Forklifts Impacting the Bottom-Line
by Thomas R. Cutler
 

Discrete manufacturers face increased global competition, market unpredictability, and demands to increase product quality while reducing production costs. These factors are forcing organizations to find ways to streamline operations and adopt lean manufacturing practices in order to become more efficient. One method in accomplishing this is the use of automated guided vehicles.

Discrete manufacturing is often characterized by individual or separate unit production, which is typically low to moderate in volume and very high in complexity. Examples include furniture, computers, cell phones, appliances, and automotive suppliers. These manufacturers need an extremely flexible manufacturing system that can improve quality and time-to-market speed while cutting costs.

Like discrete manufacturers, companies in the food, beverage, plastics, consumer goods and big box retail distribution markets are insisting on flexibility, familiarity, reliability and affordability. Stevenson noted that, "Organizations realize better than expected returns on investment using the Hybrid Forklift solution." There is no need to reinvent the wheel or the forklift; simple modifications allow for quantifiable automation improvements and protecting firms from the squeezed margin throughout the supply chain.

In just a few weeks in Chicago, ProMat 2011 will take place. The largest material handling event of the year will be display new automation solutions. Ironically, perhaps something familiar will take center stage, with a twist: A forklift.

The man-a-board forklift and the Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) have finally become one. Morphing manual and automatic operations onto a standard off-the-shelf forklift provides manufacturing and distribution centers the ultimate in material handling flexibility.

Mark Stevenson, Vice President will discuss at ProMat 2011 how a key (yes a literal key) became the launching pad for Egemin's new Hybrid Automated Guided Vehicle. Stevenson took more than thirty years of material handling expertise and recognized that keeping automated solutions familiar was a requirement for technology adoption and use throughout a manufacturing plant or distribution center. "We needed to show how easily an operator can interrupt automatic AGV operations, drive the vehicle manually and then place the forklift back into fully automatic laser guidance mode. There is no need to discard the familiar and functional forklift," according to Stevenson.

These unique hybrid Automated Guided Vehicle Systems, move over 10 million pallets annually. Hybrid AGVs are available in two sizes, 3,500 and 5,500-pound lifting capacities. The Hybrid AGVs efficiently move pallets between manufacturing cells, warehousing and standard over-the-road trailers. With lifting heights up to 23', deep lane floor stacking, pushback rack, drive-in rack and standard racking are common interface points for versatile vehicles.

The Hybrid AGV comes standard with industrial lead-acid batteries, laser navigation, advanced laser safety systems, graphical touch screen monitor, Windows OS on solid-state drive (SSD) media and 802.11 wireless communications. Optional components based on specific system requirements include RFID readers, bar code scanners, 3D camera technology, robotic battery exchange system, automatic battery charging, mechanism-sideshift and automated single/double fork systems.

Automatic Trailer Loading

Automated Warehousing and Automatic Trailer Loading drives fully automated production warehousing and automatic trailer loading system for major food and beverage corporations in North America (and worldwide.)

Automatic Trailer Loading vehicles provide automated production line takeaways with storage/retrieval of finished goods palletized product in the warehouse with 5-high floor storage and Automatic Trailer Loading of outbound shipments. The best of these ATL systems must also provide production support with inbound receiving, transports, storage and management of raw materials and containers. Ultimately, whether a hybrid forklike or more sophisticated ATL's, the result provides fully integrated warehouse and inventory management.

Food and beverage distributors are operating on particularly thin margins and as a result are depending increasingly on AGV's to reduce labor costs. AGV's for these industries must be equipped to handle palletized and unitized loads of beer, cereal, snack foods, tobacco, in-process ingredients, and packaging materials. In manufacturing, cross-docking, warehousing, and trailer loading environments are of equal value and bottom-line impacts.


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 of nearly four thousand journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News Association, American Society of Business Publication Editors, Committee of Concerned Journalists, as well as author of more than 500 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. Cutler can be contacted at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com or 888-902-0300. See More Details.

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