6 Tips to Ensure the Success of Your AGV Commissioning

Guest blog by Dr. Nicola Tomatis from MHI Member Company BlueBotics

Investing in automated guided vehicles (AGVs) is a great way to improve your operation’s efficiency. However, this efficiency boost can be achieved in one of two ways: quickly and smoothly, with the minimum of fuss, or via a long, painful and potentially expensive commissioning process. Consider the following six areas to help ensure you take the smooth path to success.

1. Plan, plan and plan again

The more you understand your site and how your AGVs will operate within it, the better. This in-depth knowledge will help your vehicle integrator understand your project quickly and help you both anticipate most problems in advance.

Here is a quick checklist of things to consider:

  • • What separate tasks (missions) do your AGVs need to perform?
  • • Where will each vehicle go to pick, drop, charge and park?
  • • Which routes will strike the right balance between minimizing the distance each AGV travels and on-site safety (in terms of other vehicles, foot traffic etc.)?
  • • How wide do your AGVs’ paths need to be? You would be surprised how many AGV buyers make a mistake with their measurements.
  • • Which machinery and equipment do your AGVs need to interact with (e.g. automatic doors, machine interfaces, elevators etc.)?
  • • Is your Wi-Fi network in place with sufficiently strong signal? Will you use an existing or dedicated Wi-Fi network?
  • • What software will your team use to manage your AGV missions? Will this be supplied by the manufacturer (e.g. ANT® server software in the case of vehicles driven by ANT® lite+) or will you need an API to then manage missions via your existing WMS, MES or ERP system? Be sure to plan this out in detail with your AGV integrator.
  • • How many shifts will each AGV run? Are you looking for 24/7 operation?

You should ask your AGV supplier or third-party integrator what work you can do ahead of time, such as installing power cables for the chargers or preparing connections with any devices an AGV needs to control, e.g., automatic doors, lights, machine handshakes and so on.

Note: Weak planning can kill a deployment’s timeline and budget, so be sure to dive deep into the planning before your automated vehicles arrive.

2. Involve and train staff

Your staff are vital to the success of your AGV program.

Regular and transparent communication will minimize uncertainty, stress and resentment from your workforce. What will the AGVs be doing? How will they work? How will employees need to interact with your automated helpers? How will this affect their role? When and how will the AGV commissioning process work? You don’t want staff to be distracted by the installation process and, equally, you don’t want them to slow down the installation team’s work – so keep them fully informed in order to avoid any surprises.

Tip: Some companies find that ‘personalizing’ their AGVs, giving them visible names or merely adding eyes or faces, for example, helps to create a more harmonious relationship between personnel and mobile robots.

Ensure the staff who will operate your AGVs are the right people (e.g., sufficiently tech-savvy) and well trained. In addition to demanding full training from your AGV integrator, also ask them to create – or help you create – an operation manual. A guide that can exist as a permanent resource for existing and future staff. If your integrator does not offer this, consider speaking directly with your vehicles’ navigation technology supplier. At the very least, ask your lead AGV manager to create this manual during the first few months of operation.

Train more than one person. If you concentrate all AGV knowledge on only one team member you are reliant upon their presence and this could put the success of your entire AGV program at risk.

3. Make room for calibration

Identify an area where your new AGV(s) can be calibrated before installation, without disturbing your existing operations, and discuss this with your vehicle integrator. Usually this area should be flat, smooth, at least 4x the largest dimension of the vehicle, and not filled with clutter. Check any specific requirements with your AGV supplier.

4. Be patient & flexible

It is rare for an AGV commissioning to go 100% smoothly. Although this guide will help you minimize problems, expect some hiccups.

Your relationship with your integrator and the attitude of your respective teams are important, so be flexible, communicate, collaborate well, and adopt a problem-solving mindset. It is this kind of positive spirit that makes an installation work.

Once your core AGV project has been created, don’t underestimate the time needed to fine tune ready for launch. This is time well spent, but may take longer than you imagine.

NOTE: Most of all, don’t give up. There could be times during the installation when it will look like nothing is working but this is not unusual when adopting new technology and you will get through it!

5. Simulate and test

Before deploying your vehicles, be sure to simulate the project, which should be possible using the AGVs’ supplied software. If running on BlueBotics’ ANT® lite+ platform, it is easy to simulate basic operations as well as fleet operations and traffic management using the ANT® server software.

The value advanced simulation testing ahead of real deployment should not be underestimated. It is perfectly possible, for example, to solve all potential traffic issues of a multi-vehicle fleet ahead of time, which will vastly reduce your stress level when you do click “GO”.

6. Choose your timing

The final testing of your automated vehicles must take place with the AGVs installed in their real-world positions, including any handshaking with machinery and equipment. If your site’s production cannot be stopped for this, consider commissioning your vehicles during planned shutdowns or at the weekend.