Are autonomous vehicles the way to solve operational challenges in your warehouse?

For the past five years, I’ve been part of the Vanderlande team that has been developing and delivering autonomous vehicle (AVs) solutions. There’s no doubt in my mind that this exciting form of technology can help modern warehouse operators deal with issues such as fluctuations in demand, a large variety products, and the rising cost and scarcity of labour. I also know that successfully applying AVs is not always easy and that they have their limitations. Therefore, it’s essential to look at their correct implementation within the total warehouse system.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that this exciting form of technology can help modern warehouse operators deal with issues such as fluctuations in demand, a large variety products, and the rising cost and scarcity of labour. “
Daan Stikkel
Senior Product Manager AV Warehousing Solutions

Over the past few years, the technology powering AVs has improved considerably. This has opened up major opportunities to automate manual processes and create more flexible and adaptable systems which can be deployed quickly. More than 100 companies are now supplying the likes of automated mobile robots (AMRs), automated forklifts and sort bots. In fact, new solutions are coming onto the market monthly, so the options are endless.

At Vanderlande, we’ve pioneered the development of AMRs through our FLEET solution, which is used in airports to handle individual pieces of baggage. We’re also excited about how AVs can complement our range of automated warehouse solutions. We have already delivered multiple systems, including automated forklifts and mobile pallet conveyors, which can replace manual handling and fully control warehousing processes – from incoming flow, to storage, to marshalling.

In addition, through our expanding Pallet AV portfolio, we’re currently focusing on the use of AVs for storage and picking of items. This involves working with partners to explore the best applications, and finding ways to integrate their technology in our end-to-end solutions.

Creating value with AVs

AVs come with many advantages, such as flexibility, speed of deployment and redundancy. Nevertheless, applying them to create value is not straightforward. There are often multiple trade-offs to be made between required space, level of automation, investment costs and system resilience. This is precisely what we look into at Vanderlande. Based on our customers’ objectives, we design the best total solution, defining the process, selecting the technology and assembling the entire system.

For us it’s not so much about the technology, it’s about the outcome and performance of the system, such as optimising the pick efficiency, space efficiency, reliability, reducing system investment costs and ensuring the solution is future-proof. We start with a close assessment of the customer’s operational needs and combine this with our deep AV system knowledge, simulation capabilities and wide range of partner solutions to create systems that work.

Where to start: brownfield sites

The flexibility of AVs means that they can be introduced to most existing warehouses – or brownfield sites – of all sizes and configurations. Brownfield sites also come with their challenges, relating to issues such as the availability of space and warehouse layouts. Existing processes and the use of load carriers also have to be taken into consideration when introducing AVs.

Nevertheless, there are definitely opportunities and applications to start with. We can focus on these in order to learn, create acceptance and minimise investment. Examples of such applications are:

Where to start: greenfield sites

At greenfield sites, automation opportunities are much greater as the entire system can be designed to optimise the use of AVs. A good design can ensure that input to the system is handled optimally to enable automatic handling, reserve sufficient space and use AV-only systems, such as item-to-person solutions.

For greenfield sites, AV solutions will be a great solution in a number of specific situations.

For pallet transport, they can deal with:

For item picking (goods to person), AVs can cope with:

A growing AV portfolio

Coming back to the question of whether AVs are the way to go to solve all your warehousing challenges: our honest answer is “no”. However, there are numerous applications for which AVs are perfectly suitable. This is why we are continually developing new solutions using our own and our partners’ AV solutions.

Having seen the way AV technology has evolved over the past few years, I’m convinced that it can deliver real advantages in the warehouse sector. Would you like to know what AVs can do for you? If so, please get in touch for a chat so we can find the best option to meet your specific needs.

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Every company and every market is different. This is reflected in the layout of your warehouse – and the advice offered by our experts.