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Vertical Reciprocating Conveyors Elevate AGVs and AMRs

By Chuck Cobb, Vice President Sales, Marketing, & Customer Support and Dan Hext, National Sales Director, PFlow Industries

Vertical reciprocating conveyors (VRCs) act as the pivotal link between two major trends in warehouse operations that are dramatically increasing efficiency and profitability:

  • Mobile Robots — The widespread adoption of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) is transforming the horizontal movement of materials across facilities, revolutionizing logistics and material handling processes; and
  • Vertical Space Utilization — Driven by the pursuit of logistics efficiency, along with escalating real estate costs and last-mile distribution demands, warehouses and production facilities are optimizing “cube space utilization” by expanding upwards rather than outwards.

Vertical reciprocating conveyors seamlessly integrate the horizontal and vertical material handling processes, facilitating the smooth automated flow of material in three dimensions. These flexible and compact systems can be incorporated into a wide variety of layouts and serve a multitude of different applications.

VRCs are Ideal for Automated Material Handling

The symbiotic relationship between these two trends — mobile robots and the utilization of vertical space — mediated through Vertical Reciprocating Conveyor technology, exemplifies how the strategic adoption of advanced automation technologies and space utilization concepts can revolutionize warehousing and manufacturing.

A VRC functions like an elevator. They are regulated as a conveyor (under ASME B20.1) and not a people-moving elevator, making them less costly to install and maintain. VRCs also have an enclosed platform that prevents loads from falling as they are lifted and lowered. This makes them far safer to operate than forklifts or scissor lifts. VRCs safeguard employees from injuries incurred while transporting items on staircases and deter the misuse of forklifts beyond their safe mast lift height limits.

Flexibility

Vertical Reciprocating Conveyors (VRCs) stand out for their exceptional versatility and adaptability, opening a myriad of automated material handling opportunities. They seamlessly integrate with mobile robots and automated conveyor systems, or they can be manually loaded and unloaded.

AGVs, AMRs and driverless forklifts can travel with the load on the VCR and continue travel when they arrive at the destination floor. Alternatively, they can efficiently transfer loads onto the VRC at one level, and then another system —whether it’s another AGV, AMR, or a different automated or manual material handling method — can take over at a different level.

Furthermore, VRCs can effortlessly connect with automated horizontal conveyor systems, facilitating the smooth flow of materials to and from production, packaging and shipping operations.

Seamless Transition

A seamless transition as the mobile robots travels on and off the carriage is critical. PFlow’s optional, patented DeckLock Safety System guarantees a smooth and secure transition of goods during loading and unloading operations, providing years of reliable service even under heavy loads and continuous usage. It also prevents unintended carriage descent due to overload or brake malfunction during loading.

Seamless Integration

The integration of AGV/AMRs and VRCs with Warehouse Management Systems and Fleet Management Software represents a significant leap forward in material handling efficiency, ensuring a fluid and cohesive operation within the material handling ecosystem. As a result, these robots can autonomously transport or collect goods across different facility levels, minimizing the need for human intervention and significantly boosting throughput and operational effectiveness.

Critical to this integration are the features and capabilities that facilitate real-time communication and interoperability among AGVs, AMRs, and VRCs. This integration ensures that robots can autonomously and precisely position themselves to either load or unload goods onto the VRCs. The employment of advanced sensors, visual systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies enables these machines to share their locations, statuses, and the movement of the carriages within the VRCs, thereby streamlining the material handling process.

Multiple Configuration Options

VRCs’ flexibility and customizability mean they can integrate seamlessly with complex automated material handling systems and fit into tight spaces.

Three basic configurations are available.

·       Straddle: In a straddle configuration, the VRC’s carriage is placed between the two guide columns, distributing the weight of the load vertically along the length of both columns;

·       Cantilever: In a cantilever configuration, the VRC’s carriage is supported by two guide columns on one side of the carriage, allowing for more loading and unloading flexibility to maneuver loads, especially in space constrained areas; and

·       4-Post: The 4-post VRC configuration positions the platform within four guide columns to enable maximum lifting capacity and large platform sizes.

For more information, visit https://www.pflow.com.

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