By Jana Kocianova
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are already big business. Globally, the market was valued at $2.49 billion in 2018, according to Grandview Research. A robust annual growth rate of 15.8% is predicted between 2019 and 2025.
The benefits of AGVs are many: better warehousing efficiency, streamlined logistics management, lower labor costs, faster delivery, heightened product quality and reduced risk of workplace injury, to name a few. When tied into facility automation and control systems, AGVs become integral to achieving digitalization and Smart Factory goals.
The retail and eCommerce sectors are among the pioneering users. Amazon, for example, deployed 15,000 AGVs to reduce delivery times, improve service levels and enable flexibilization of production. The automotive industry, too, harnesses AGVs in large numbers to provide autonomous navigation on the assembly line, transport bulky items and reduce labor costs. In many areas, after all, labor is both expensive and in short supply, especially at weekends and during the night shift. AGVs can provide a way to ease labor concerns.
But challenges remain. AGVs must be properly integrated with existing production, control and automation platforms, and must exhibit high reliability and availability. They also must fulfill all plant safety requirements. This means they have to be designed with sufficient flexibility in routing to avoid obstacles and respond to potential safety issues.
Siemens approach to AGVs benefits from a broad existing portfolio of digital tools, technologies and systems. They range from design through production planning, production engineering and production execution. Together, they make it possible to create the Digital Enterprise. Here are a few examples:
Siemens NX CAD can be used to start mechanical designs from scratch.
Siemens Automation Designer and Siemens Plant Designer help design systems that incorporate data analytics, machine learning capabilities, and more.
Siemens Plant Simulation and Siemens Process Simulate are useful in scenario design and testing. They make it possible to view a wide range of scenarios, environments and variables without the need to engage in physical prototyping. By demonstrating the impact of changes, this greatly speeds virtual commissioning.
These components and systems can interoperate with SIMOVE, the Siemens AGV platform. It consists of many interoperative hardware and software components and systems as well as AGV libraries which are pre-tested function blocks that simplify the programming of AGVs.
For example, virtual commissioning of AGV elements such as line PLCs and vehicle PLCs can be swiftly accomplished using Siemens PLC Sim Advanced and Siemens Digital Twin. Or path planning and energy consumption via Siemens MES. Similarly, Siemens MindSphere applications can be used to store data in the cloud and perform analytics. This makes AGV functions accessible to a greater many digital applications.
But the AGV capabilities of Siemens don’t stop there. PLCSIM Advanced can be utilized for virtual engineering to simulate functions and carry out realistic testing to validate functions much faster. Additionally, this is a smart way to train operators on how to operate the SIMOVE AGVs platform. SIMOVE also offers the ability to layout AGV functions, control logic and control AGV movement.
SIMOVE, then, is a standardized solution for AGV applications. It uses standard automation and drive components plus tailored application software as part of the Siemens automation portfolio. As a result, it makes system extension easy via open interfaces and third-party integration.
This comprehensive system package for AGV automation enables machine builders and manufacturers to automate AGV applications through the use of Siemens components and technologies for functions such as carrier control, navigation and maintenance software. A large number of maintenance apps have been tailored for different applications and users
SIMOVE offers a dashboard for KPI monitoring, determining the optimal dispatch order per AGV, route information including the status and location of each AGV, system alarms and equipment diagrams. It integrates several AGV disciplines into one common system: combining automation and navigation on one common HW platform; using appropriate operating systems such as Linux for PC-based navigation and control on the PLC for automation; and integrated safety supporting PROFIsafe
In summary, Siemens tools support the whole AGV lifecycle from design on to execution and maintenance. Manufacturers can harness this platform to greatly simplify design and engineering efforts. They can eliminate traditional conveyors and other assembly line components as they transition towards the Smart Factory. The SIMOVE portfolio of integrated and standardized AGV components and systems paves the way for the Digital Enterprise.
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