Easy-to-use, Off-the-Shelf Components Help Machine Builder Reduce Time to Market by 50 Percent

April 1, 2009
This case history about AutoGuide LLC comes courtesy of Rockwell Automation. It has been selected and edited by the MHM editorial staff for clarity, content

This case history about AutoGuide LLC comes courtesy of Rockwell Automation. It has been selected and edited by the MHM editorial staff for clarity, content and style.

Machine builders around the globe are pressured to get products to market faster as development delays reduce profitability and strain resources for innovation. Machine builder, AutoGuide LLC, based in Georgetown, Ky., felt this pressure as it sought to build an automated guided vehicle (AGV) conversion kit that could meet its customers’ demands for simplicity and field support.

Serving industries such as automotive, medical supplies and cosmetics, AutoGuide automates plant-wide ground transportation of point-to-point material systems. Unlike manually driven vehicles, AGVs provide smooth, predictable flow of materials and products throughout a manufacturing facility to help streamline production.

“Statistically, AGVs are much safer than manually driven vehicles, because they eliminate human error and human attitude. AGV traffic is all pre-programmed and thought through, and implemented in a controlled manner,” said Paul Perry, president and CEO of AutoGuide. “Until recently, converting standard industrial trucks and forklifts into state-of-the-art AGVs has been too daunting for some of our customers.”

Prior to working with Rockwell Automation, AutoGuide built an AGV by integrating controls directly into a vehicle. This rewiring of the original vehicle typically took AutoGuide two weeks to complete. While AGVs provide customers added safety, security and a solid return on investment, AutoGuide recognized that the time and money investment for a conversion was significant enough that several customers were hesitant to invest. In addition, customers were reluctant to rewire their vehicles’ original controls out of concern that they would risk ease of serviceability.

“In this business, converting a vehicle intimidates people,” said Perry. “But if the process was more adaptive and less intrusive, such as an add-on control kit instead of complex vehicle rewiring, we figured customers would be more willing to invest.”

AutoGuide set a goal to develop a modular controls AGV kit that could attach to the vehicle, enabling customers to convert their vehicles to an AGV without having to rewire the vehicle. This new kit would include off-the-shelf components and incorporate its proven AGV technology into a cabinet designed as a bolt-on attachment. In addition, the kit would complement the vehicle’s aesthetics, functionality and serviceability.

AutoGuide turned to Rockwell Automation to build a solution that maximized the AGV kit’s reliability and performance. A decade-long customer of Allen-Bradley®, Perry wanted an automation partner with a full offering.

“We picked Rockwell Automation because it could provide everything we needed, including product reliability and support,” said Perry. “Our first customer was very demanding when it came to component reliability and support; but once we said we were partnering with Rockwell Automation, they were right at ease.”

Perry combined the complete offering from Rockwell Automation with product selection support to choose the right components for each application. Each kit is enclosed in a durable steel cabinet with easy service access, and features a convenient harness to plug into the truck wiring that eliminates traditional splicing or wiring alterations.

“We designed the kit with modular components that include quick disconnects for most products, so if something goes wrong on the vehicle motor or transmission, users can dismantle the kit in an intuitive, modular fashion, or they can easily remove the whole kit and get total access to the vehicle,” said Perry.

After performing the required maintenance, users bolt the kit back on, and the vehicle is up and running.

Push buttons and stack lights featuring quick-disconnect capabilities helped AutoGuide save development time and increase its customers’ abilities to efficiently maintain vehicles. “Instead of pulling wires and dismantling a push button or a stack light in a panel, we can snap them out with the quick disconnect feature,” said Perry. “Component features like these help us differentiate our product against the competition.”

AutoGuide consistently sought components that were easy to install, such as pilot devices and relays. In the past, customers would have to rewire a truck to change out a relay. New relay technology allows them to slide a lever down to release the relay without the need to rewire. AutoGuide further reduced potential downtime for its customers by including fuse holders with roll-out capabilities. The kit also includes safety system equipment, such as a bumper, e-stops and a safety mat.

To guide the vehicle’s complex movements, the company incorporated electric steering with a magnetic guidance package and the Allen-Bradley CompactLogix™ programmable automation controller for its time-saving serviceability. CompactLogix has an expandable I/O platform — users simply slide on the right number of I/O modules to meet the application’s needs. Its rackless design provides space savings of 20 to 40 percent over traditional mounting styles, and the controller’s integrated, high-performance serial bus and removable terminal blocks provide greater configuration flexibility, reduced inventory requirements and easy module assembly and replacement.

“CompactLogix enables the user to take the whole bank of terminals off with a couple of screws,” said Perry. “Even the batteries are easy to change.”

The Allen-Bradley component-based kits saved AutoGuide development time and money and, in turn, the off-the-shelf, open design helped its customers use AGVs more effectively.

“Success for us is measured by how fast we can get the kit through the assembly process and on the floor for testing,” said Perry. “The fewer failures we come across in testing, the quicker the product goes out, saving the customer money and time.”

The average time to complete the new kit is five days, compared to ten days for its previous-generation AGV solutions. In addition, the company has reduced assembly and installation time by 50 percent, reduced labor and assembly costs by 50 percent, and wiring costs by 40 percent.

Since AutoGuide’s first prototype test in January 2006, it has already placed 20 kits in the field. Based on this trend, Perry expects AutoGuide’s annual output to more than double.

“We’ve accomplished our goal of creating a simple add-on kit,” said Perry. “We don’t need to significantly modify the customer’s truck anymore, and we’re reducing time in so many areas — for us and for our end-user customers.”

MHMonline.com welcomes relevant, exclusive case histories that explain in specific detail the business benefits that new software and material-handling equipment has provided to specific users. Send submissions to Mary Aichlmayr([email protected]), MHM Editor. All submissions will be edited for clarity, content and style.