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Low-cost AGV needs no programming
Published:  08 April, 2010

A British automation company has developed a low-cost AGV (automated guided vehicle) technology which needs no user programming and could replace conveyors, forklifts and pallet trucks in many applications. Gateshead-based ADM Automation’s iCart system is simple to implement and can move loads of up to 600kg along paths defined by interlocking plastic floor tiles that contain electronic route tags.

The 1m-long carts can determine the best route to deliver or collect materials from a variety of locations. They pull the loads on trolleys attached to them via catches which couple and decouple the trolleys automatically, allowing the iCart to drop off a full trolley and pick up an empty one on the same journey. The cart can recognise the type of trolley it is collecting, and act accordingly. When it enters a load/unload station, the cart can wait until an operator presses a button or a robot sends a wireless control signal.

The carts are propelled by a pair of servomotors, powered by two 120Ah gel-based batteries. They can usually operate for more than two shifts without recharging. An automatic voltage monitoring system indicates when the batteries need to be swapped – an operation that takes less than a minute. A two-zone Sick laser scanner mounted underneath the cart prevents collisions with personnel or objects. The carts are less than 500mm wide, allowing them to move through gangways that would be too wide for a forklift.

ADM’s sales manager Andy Howson says that the iCart fills a gap between simple guided carts with limited capabilities and safety functions, and large, expensive AGVs. The iCart typically costs £13,000–15,000 – less than half as much as a traditional AGV.

Several organisations, including a major postal business, are currently testing the iCart.

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