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Providing a Safe Automated Vehicle Operation

For all the advantages of automated vehicles, you must create a safe environment for their operation.

Contributed by: MHI’s Mobile Automation Group (MAG)

Automated vehicles can speed up productivity, lower labor costs and reduce errors. Image courtesy of Mobile Automation Group (MAG).

Gone are the days when warehouses were operated only at the hands of employees. While there are still plenty of places where humans play significant roles, they are now commonly assisted by mobile automation, such as automated mobile robots (AMRs), automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and the like. Amazingly, automated vehicles are flexible, scalable and can drastically speed up productivity while lowering labor costs.

Other benefits of automated vehicles include reduced errors, easy integration into your existing operations and enhanced efficiency. In addition, the cost to purchase automated vehicles is at the same time becoming more affordable, so when added to the productivity gains, the ROI comes faster than ever before. Despite all their features, however, deploying mobile vehicles in your facility requires careful attention to safety.

“Automated vehicles are popping up everywhere, but they still must be rooted in safety,” says Brian Keiger, Director of Business Development and Marketing with stow robotics US. “Just because they are safe devices, doesn’t mean they can operate safely if the proper guidelines aren’t in place.” There are several steps to put in place before AGV deployment to ensure their safety.

Training—First and foremost, before you let automated vehicles loose in your facility, you must ensure all your personnel are aware of them and appropriately trained. “Anyone who might interact with an automated vehicle should be trained,” says Keiger. “That means anyone on your floor, even if they work in a different part of the building.”

Training should include a basic understanding of what the robots do, where they travel, and what to look for when working near them. Everyone should also be well aware of pinch points in the facility, because bots like AMRs operate without a pre-defined path and could trap someone. “If someone backs up against a wall to get out and doesn’t realize it’s a pinch point, that could create a dangerous situation,” says Keiger. “You should also put up signage that identifies these spots.”

You can train your personnel through a variety of methods, even layering them to provide adequate safety. There are videos that demonstrate what bots do and where they operate, and you can also partner with your bot manufacturer to provide in-person classes that complement the videos.

Mark the paths—While AGVs have plenty of freedom in a facility, it is important to mark their general paths. An AGV cannot stop quickly enough if an unexpected object suddenly appears in its path. This means you should mark all turns and parking locations, and identify all hazardous and restricted areas, too. This will help your personnel know where to expect the bots as they go about their daily workload. While not required, adding ambient lighting can enhance bots’ visibility as they move around.

Identify a safety champion—If you are deploying automated vehicles, select someone in your facility which can serve as the project’s safety champion. “This should be someone who is up to date on all the latest regulations and safety training,” says Keiger. “They can then oversee training, signage and path markings to increase the likelihood of accident avoidance.”

Partner with the right provider—The list of automated vehicle suppliers grows daily, but it’s important to find a reputable, experienced provider to partner with as you consider adding mobile robots to your facility. These providers will be well versed in all the proper safety standards (ANSI, RIA, et al) surrounding automated vehicles and will work with you to make your facility as safe as possible. Consulting with the MHI’s Mobile Automation Group (MAG) is an excellent place to start your provider search.).

As warehouses continue their rapid adoption of mobile robots, the vehicles themselves will become more advanced, and at the same time, increasingly safer. The ultimate safety stop, however, is the training provided by companies deploying the technology. “The manufacturers are looking constantly at the safety aspects and trying to improve them,” says Keiger. “Make sure you have a partner who provides guidelines and works to ensure a safe operating environment.” WMHS

MHI’s Mobile Automation Group’s (MAG) members are the industry’s leading automatic guided vehicle systems suppliers. They supply systems worldwide and in virtually every major manufacturing and distribution sector. MAG programs include the development of educational and training materials, a voice in the development and maintenance of national standards and the confidential exchange of market statistics and publication of industry data to the public. Plus, the communication of the benefits of MAG solutions via trade shows, educational forums, and other national and regional seminars. Find out more at: www.mhi.org/mag

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