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You like materials handling, then thank the robots!

Written by

Neil Martin

Neil Martin

From an early age, I have had a fascination about how materials are moved, particularly by forktrucks. I kid you not. 

I blame this fascination on a classic British movie called I’m All Right Jack, first released way back in 1959, which featured posh boy Stanley Windrush (played by Ian Carmichael) having a tussle with trade union steward Fred Kite (played by Peter Sellers). In one classic scene, the innocent Windrush demonstrates to a time and motion official how quickly his forktruck can actually do the job, much to the annoyance of Kite and his colleagues who go about their job in a more leisurely fashion. The result is a strike, a common affair throughout much of Britain until the blunt arrival of Thatcherism. 

I still watch forktrucks with admiration, even though it's one of the few things I haven’t driven, even though I’m itching to have a go.

But, as automation steps up, many of the forktruck duties are being handled by nifty things called AGVs and AMRs. An AGV is an automated guided vehicle and an AMR is an autonomous mobile robot. AGVs have been with us for almost 50 years. They are small, flatbed vehicles which are guided by magnets, or wires, and follow a strictly prescribed route. If they meet an obstacle, they stop. They cannot re-route. 

The big difference is that an AMR has a greater ability to navigate itself, using AI and 2D/3D vision to get around a building, avoiding obstacles as they go. The cool thing is that they don’t just travel from A to B; they can choose their own route, given the circumstances of the job in hand. 

So, you’ll now find me staring at these things at trade shows, wondering just what Fred Kite would have thought of them? 

You like materials handling, then thank the robots! image