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An AutoGuide automated guided vehicle carries parts and other items inside the BodyWeld section of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant in Georgetown.

Georgetown plant offers look at how automated guided vehicles increase efficiency, reduce operating costs

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GEORGETOWN, Ky. (May 7, 2012) — Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, located in Georgetown, uses automatic guided vehicles, or AGVs, in several areas of its 7.5 million s.f. plant. AGVs are becoming increasingly popular as a way to reduce operating costs and increase efficiency in manufacturing and distribution facilities.

The vehicles run on the plant floor and help move product from point A to point B without the need for an onboard operator or driver, making it a solution for a variety of industries including automotive, food and beverage, chemicals and plastics, commercial print, paper and pharmaceutical. The system often is used to move raw material to a manufacturing line and finished product to a distribution area, which helps companies focus their employees’ time on true “value added” activity, while the AGV handles mundane movement of materials. It also helps reduce labor-related costs and product damage and ensures on-time material delivery.

About AGVs

AGVs have been around for decades, although rising labor costs and increased affordability recently have given the industry a boost. Today, AGVs play an important role in the design of new factories and warehouses as more companies recognize it as an efficient, dependable and versatile material handling solution.

There are several different types of AGVs, including towing, unit load, cart and fork vehicles. Towing vehicles commonly are used in a variety of manufacturing facilities. They are popular for their ability to tow single or multiple trailers and to be configured for manual or automatic loading. Unit load vehicles feature rugged steel frames, and on-board conveyance, making them ideal for industrial environments with automated processes. Cart vehicles, popular in the automotive and electronics industries, are used for material transportation and assembly line tasks. Typically lower capacity and lower complexity, these systems are less expensive than conventional AGV systems and also are more flexible.

Tow tractors or tuggers offer added flexibility with the installation of an aftermarket kit that converts the tugger into an automatic guided vehicle. When manual operation is needed, an operator simply has to stand on the operator platform to switch back. At the end of use, the kit can be removed from these units and used again on new tuggers. This provides ongoing usage and value for the kit and allows the original tuggers to be converted back for sale or for lease trade-in. Most cart vehicles follow a magnetic tape on the floor, which makes changing the path quick and inexpensive. The fourth type, fork vehicles, is ideal for companies where automatic load pickup or delivery is required from various height levels. Fork vehicles are most often used for semi-trailer load/unload and floor to floor delivery.

Importing AGVs to America

Toyota began importing AGVs to the U.S. in early 2007. With more than 15 years experience in the Asian market, there are more than 5,000 Toyota AGVs in operation in the world today. Toyota offers AGVs with capacities ranging from 250- to 10,000-pounds, which are designed for small and large loads, and ideal for companies looking to increase handling volume without increasing operational staff. Toyota’s system features multiple path programming, retractable towing pin, remote communication, and multiple safety items including optical sensors that can be programmed for different zones to allow safe operation near pedestrians and in confined spaces. Toyota AGVs follow a self-adhesive magnetic tape, which makes setup simple and requires no floor modifications.

The ability of AGVs to fit in tight areas and easily adapt to future change make them an ideal solution for any business with manufacturing, warehousing or distribution centers. The benefits are many, including higher productivity, continuous operation, reduced product damage, improved process flow, and the elimination of non-value-added activity.