AGVs: The Alternative Conveyor System

Increasingly short product life cycles and constantly changing market requirements have led to a call for a high level of transport flexibility in warehouses and distribution centres. In some cases, conventional conveyors are bound by physical constraints and limited in their ability to satisfy these requirements.

With a passion for innovation, SSI Schaefer developed the Weasel®, an automated guided vehicle which is a flexible and versatile transport system that follows an optical guiding line, meaning it does not require costly installation.

The Weasel® offers an innovative solution that is equally impressive in terms of its scalability as well as flexibility. With the Weasel®, modified customer requirements and fluctuations in demand can now be managed at short notice in a costeffective manner.

The Weasel® AGV system deploys small vehicles, opening up hitherto inaccessible zones and routes. Whether handling totes, cartons or even hanging garments, this small AGV masters almost all transport tasks. Goods can be transported to the intended destination, safely and securely, without access restrictions – all at a low cost of acquisition and operation.

Weasels move between work stations and storage areas via an optical guiding line that can be installed quickly, easily and in a flexible manner. Speeds of up to 1 metre per second on routes with an incline of up to 20 percent can also be achieved. The Weasel® is requested or sent to its destination manually by operating buttons or through fully automated, software-controlled systems. The route of the Weasel® can be controlled via predetermined RFID-tags placed underneath the optical guiding line.

The standardised control software enables quick and easy integration of entire Weasel® fleets without time-consuming IT installations and adaptations. It also can easily be integrated into existing in-house material flows. A fleet controller administers the jobs automatically (MFC/ERP) or manually and allocates these to the respective vehicles once they have been approved.

Despite its small dimensions, the Weasel® transports goods and loading units of various sizes and up to 35 kg in weight in all temperature ranges between 2°C and 50°C. Its compact design allows it to be used in inaccessible areas and it has been adapted to carry a wide range of products, including hanging garments from picking locations to packing benches and despatch areas. In the latter instance, the bodies can be fitted with special fixtures for transporting fashion goods and clothing in this format. The Weasel® can also be used to check goods into the warehouse and a fully automatic goods-in reading process can be achieved by using RFID read tunnels for the automatic RFID bulk stock recording of the inbound goods.

The use of this autonomous transport system not only speeds up cycle times, but also improves the cost effectiveness of warehouse processes, ensuring an optimal, barrier-free material flow, with low purchasing and operating costs as well as a rapid return on investment.