What is the route ahead for manufacturing? It is easy to say that it lies in the automated guided vehicle (AGV), and think that the problem is solved. That will not work. According to Prof. Anna Syberfeldt, today’s AGVs are too expensive even in the simplest applications. And too dumb for more complicated tasks.
Anna is Professor of Production Engineering in the School of Engineering Science at the University of Skövde in Sweden. She leads the Production & Automation Engineering research group, comprising over 40 researchers in virtual engineering. The group’s research covers areas such as simulation, optimization, robotics, decision-support systems, and AR/VR, and is carried out and applied largely in cooperation with partners in manufacturing industry.
We need to start again with AGVs
“Even the most basic of today’s AGVs is too expensive,” she says. “There is too much reluctance to move away from old platforms, and too little incentive to reduce prices. We need to start again, from the ground up.”
The hoped-for future for AGVs is that they are much more flexible. They are smaller, and able to work together in swarms. Tiny batch sizes are economical. Mass production and the conveyor belt disappear. The barriers between internal and external transportation break down.
Challenges to be overcome
“If that is to come true, we face some big challenges,” observes Anna. “We will need flexible AGVs that can change their duties from day to day. That means a high degree of AI, if we are to minimize the amount of programming required.” That same AI will also have to understand safety issues, and will have to implement a high level of security to protect against cyber attacks that could disrupt industry.
“Although programming AGVs is becoming easier, future AVs will need to be able to learn and program themselves.” Anna says. “The AI will need fast, powerful processors and precision GPS, for example.” However, the future of AGVs depends on more than smart software. The hardware is important, too.
Hardware is important, too
Anna highlights lift tables among the hardware with a vital role in the AGVs of the future: “They will not only help create more ergonomic workplaces, but also change production lines themselves. That is why we are particularly pleased to be working with companies like Marco.”
Anna has another role as Head of Research at ASSAR Industrial Innovation Arena in Skövde. The institution involves Science Park Skövde, the University of Skövde, IDC West Sweden AB, Volvo Car Corporation and Volvo Group. The aim of the ASSAR project is to establish a world-leading integrated physical and virtual development environment for research, technological development, innovation, and education.
The pictures show some of the ongoing projects at ASSAR, with Marco lift tables mounted on experimental AVGs. As AVGs become smaller, they will need smaller lift tables, too. Marco’s M0 is showing the way as the smallest lift table on the market, with innovative integrated hydraulics.
More about ASSAR
More about Prof. Syberfeldt’s research
More about VPG’s model M0