Automated Guided Vehicles and Autonomous Mobile Robots: Understanding the Difference

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MHI’s Mobile Automation Group (MAG) fills an important role in connecting suppliers to end users and helping integrators understand that mobile automation is just one part of the overall warehouse process. But none of that matters if safety isn’t at the forefront.

“That’s not going to change” as a focus of the group, said Brian Keiger, chair of MAG and vice president of MHI member Conveyco. “There’s a huge interest now in automation. For MAG, it’s essential that growth is accompanied by an emphasis on safety. One can’t happen without the other.”

a mobile automation vehicle driving down an office aisleway

A mobile automation vehicle driving down an office aisleway PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE MOBILE AUTOMATION GROUP

Understanding the latest ANSI and other standards related to automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and the underdevelopment standards for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) is just one aspect of MAG’s commitment to education. “There are new standards popping up all over the place,” Keiger said. “We help people understand why they are so darn important. They exist to help guide us, but also are there to promote safety and reliability, and to get the most of productivity and efficiency.”

Matt Bush, vice president of technology, innovation and research at MHI member KPI Solutions, chairs MAG’s education and content committee. “It’s important to keep up as the products evolve.” These days, Bush said, there’s “hype” around mobile automation. “People want more flexible systems, so they’re gravitating to mobile products.”

As interest grows, so does the need to ensure that the right solution ends up in the right environment. Dr. Kai Beckhaus, CEO of MHI member Wagner Group, U.S. and co-vice chairman of MAG, said it isn’t as simple as “clicking a button and saying, ‘I want 10 automated forklifts.’ That’s where the problem starts, if the automated forklift, or AMR, does not match manually with an operator-driven machine. That’s where education needs to kick in. People in logistics roles might have C-suite requirements to automate their facility to some degree, but they’ve not been exposed to that. That’s where we come in, to bridge that gap.”

Dr. Beckhaus emphasized understanding the difference between AGVs and AMRs and the distinctions between them. “That is a simple thing where education can clear misunderstandings.”

Education and content created by MAG helps end users understand the technology and find the solution for the problem they’re trying to solve, Bush said. Integrators also benefit from understanding how mobile automation fits into the overall process. He advocates for change management as a key component to success.

“When you’re implementing AMRs, it’s a culture change,” Bush said. “If you don’t implement that change management and get [workers]to buy in and accept it, it will never work.”

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