|Supply chain, distribution and logistics professionals came to the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta this week for the Modex 2012 industry trade show. Robotic vehicles were a hot topic of education seminars, demonstrations and prototype exhibits and promotions. (Photo/Modex 2012)|
|Sarah Carlson, marketing director of Jervis B. Webb Company|
|Gary Forger, senior vice president of Materials Handling Industry of America. |
By Chuck Crumbo
Published Feb. 8, 2012
ATLANTA -- Looking to cut costs and make their operations more efficient, companies are enlisting an army of robotic vehicles to work in their warehouses and manufacturing facilities.
Business has picked up as sales of automatic guided vehicle systems have been the strongest in years, officials say.
The group, which is part of the Charlotte-based Material Handling Industry of America, said that in 2011 member companies sold $108 million worth of equipment, including 925 vehicles and 130 systems. Those numbers marked a 70% increase in the number of vehicles and 25% jump in the number of systems, the group said.
“The combined numbers for 2010 and 2011 are especially strong,” said the group’s chairwoman, Sarah Carlson, marketing director of Jervis B. Webb Company, a material handling solutions firm based in Farmington Hills, Mich.
Total sales for the two years topped $200 million, and 1,700 vehicles and 240 systems were installed during the period, she said.
“The economy is improving and more companies are looking to add automation to improve productivity and lower operating costs,” she said.
Although manufacturing operations continue to be the primary use for automatic guided vehicle systems, the trend is shifting toward distribution centers, said Randy Winger, vice chairman of the group.
About 25% of the automatic systems were installed in distribution centers, said Winger, who’s with Dematic Corp., of Grand Rapids, Mich.
“There is a shift under way as AGVS expand increasing into distribution centers,” Winger said. “In fact, the number of distribution center applications increased 50% since last year and seven times compared to 2007.”
Transportation and food manufacturing are the leading industries for the use of automatic guided vehicle systems, but in 2011 beverage/tobacco manufacturing industries increased their share of the systems.
“It is clear that based on these numbers that manufacturers of automation solutions, namely AGVs, are seeing substantial interest in this technology,” said Gary Forger, the group’s managing executive and senior vice president of professional development. “I believe this can be attributed not only to an increasing acceptance of this technology but also because of its proven efficiency and cost effectiveness.”