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What are automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and how can they benefit your operation?

7 minutes to read

Automated guided vehicle (AGV) are automated material handling solutions that work autonomously, transporting goods and materials through manufacturing facilities, warehouses or distribution centres without a driver or operator.

The popularity of automated guided vehicles is booming due to their ability to automate repetitive manual tasks, ensure visibility of material flow and reduce the risk of site downtime. 

AGVs have specific use cases and are becoming a popular option for countless organisations for warehouse automation, eliminating unnecessary processes, adding unrealised value and developing a competitive edge.



An overview of AGVs.

The material flow through a warehouse or manufacturing facility may seem complex, but it is easily standardised and programmable. 

AGVs provide the physical assets required in a systemic approach to warehouse operations, where common functions — such as material put away or replenishment — can be reworked into configurable modules, with actions delivered by AGVs rather than workers. 

Essentially, AGVs help separate repetitive workflows from unique ones. 

AGVs can be used to eliminate waste within operations, such as those time-consuming activities that take away energy and resources. AGVs and warehouse automation can be part of a step-by-step process that can be flexible, fitting bespoke needs. 

A key focus of an automated forklift system with material handling is to make the entire process smoother and quicker, entering an environment of exceptional efficiency. Utilising AGVs is the best way of capturing this.


How do AGVs work?

AGVs are driverless vehicles. Onboard software guides their movement, helping them move along predefined paths and avoid obstacles, ensuring safety. There are many ways AGVs navigate through a site, but the two most efficient are reflector navigation and natural navigation:

  • Reflector navigation: In this navigation method, reflectors are installed on-site and scanned by each automated vehicle, allowing it to define its position based on the distance to the reflectors. This navigation method has been noted for its high accuracy and robustness.
  • Natural navigation: Using natural navigation, an automated truck will use reference points, such as walls, racking and fixed objects to calculate location. This is a common navigation method for warehouses or distribution centres where the internal setup and landmarks remain constant.

On top of this, AGVs include built-in safety scanners, obstacle detection units, load sensors and vision cameras to prevent collisions, guaranteeing accurate and safe load handling.



Applications for AGVs.

AGVs take over from human operators and manual forklifts, conveyor systems or carts, handling and transporting large volumes of material.

AGVs can be used for:

  • Put-away.
  • Replenishment.
  • Point-to-point transfer.
  • Empty pallet handling.
  • Finished goods to outbound.

And they help add value to:

  • Block stacking.
  • High-level storage.
  • Light item handling.
  • High-density storage.

AGVs handle raw materials and can be used for partially completed goods and finished products. They can move work-in-progress materials from one workstation to another or different parts of a manufacturing facility, maintaining the flow of materials and products.

In contrast, a processing line that runs out of materials can stall or delay a manufacturing process. The AGV, alongside centralised automation software, will keep track of material movement, ensuring a consistent supply is always available.

AGVs will also transport inventory from long-term storage to forward-picking locations, making order-picking far more efficient for employees. This also means shipping and deliveries will be much more accurate.


The business case for automation.

At first glance, AGVs will consistently guarantee increases in efficiency and productivity, providing optimised warehouse automation. They are programmable, predictable, reliable and save time. Human workers oversee tasks and are provided with the correct goods and materials precisely when needed.

Similarly, as they are automated, they are far less fallible than human workers. Reducing human error is a crucial way of improving efficiency and accuracy on the warehouse floor, helping minimise loss and downtime, alongside capturing improved resource utilisation.

Other warehouse automation benefits AGVs generate include:


Improved safety for workers and visitors.

Top-of-the-line AGVs include a wide variety of safety features designed to keep trucks moving throughout a warehouse without impacting the safety of workers.


Reduced cost of errors.

Downtime, shipping errors and safety risks can all be costly. AGV robots eliminate these costs by creating a consistent, visible and accurate working environment.

Agility and flexibility.

While describing a warehouse as a flexible working environment may feel inaccurate due to the rigid workflows necessary for production, AGVs offer flexibility on-site. 

With simple programming, various trucks on the market and complete scalability offered within the solution, onboarding AGVs means efficient warehouse automation is possible.

Start your automation journey

Our checklist discusses the benefits of warehouse automation and explains how your business can implement it. Download your copy, today. Automation-2

Types of AGVs available.

There are a wide variety of AGVs available on the market today. For example, warehouses can utilise:

Automated warehouse trucks.

Automated warehouse trucks are designed for automating repetitive pallet handling. They provide:

  • Pallet transport.
  • Block stacking.
  • Mixed pallet handling.
  • High-level storage.

These types of trucks also allow for manual operation.

Automated tow trains.

Tow trains provide automated fork-free pallet and item handling. They are the perfect choice for just-in-time delivery.

Automated pallet carrier.

Automated pallet carriers are suitable for automated transport in your production site or logistic centre. They can pick up and transport pallets from point A to B, where for example an automated stacker will store it in the racking.

Semi-automated shuttles.

Semi-automated shuttles provide high-density, deep storage solutions with an 80% space utilisation rate. They guarantee increased throughput and are ideal for cold store operations.

AGVs provide a much-needed guarantee of efficiency and productivity gains within a warehouse environment. However, they are not always the right choice. To help you discover whether warehouse automation would work for your needs, we have developed a blueprint to help. 


Discover if automation is right for you.

The Warehouse Automation Blueprint will help you determine if automation and AGVs would suit your specific scenario and solve any problems you may face, such as surplus labour or regular downtime. 

It also covers the key questions you must ask when searching for an AGV vendor, helping you sort through what is available on the market and make an informed decision.

Click the link below to access your copy.

warehouse automation resource