Picture Perfect AGV Application

Nov. 1, 2006
Fuji Photo Film uses automated-guided vehicles to increase DC throughput.

While Fujifilm's green boxes of film are instantly recognized around the world, demand for its electronic imaging products is growing rapidly. The company is using automated-guided vehicles (AGVs) at its 500,000 sq.-ft. automated distribution center in Greenville, S.C., to meet the needs of its retail, consumer, professional and business customers.

Fuji Photo Film, Inc.'s (Valhalla, N.Y.) sales of imaging, information and document products, services, and e-solutions reached $4.1 billion in 2005. The company's 500-acre Greenwood, S.C. manufacturing and research complex includes seven high-tech manufacturing plants, the research laboratories and its automated distribution center—its largest DC. The site's 1,500 employees manufacture digital and conventional pre-sensitized plates and film for the graphic arts market, 35mm color film and photographic paper, QuickSnap one-time-use recyclable cameras, and digital and conventional medical imaging products.

Automating the DC
Fuji's Greenwood DC has three main areas—raw materials, partial picking and full pallet operations. Products produced at each of the manufacturing plants on campus are delivered to the DC and stored for delivery to regional distribution centers.

"The Greenwood facility is a strategic production hub in the Fujifilm family of companies around the world," says Keith Butler, industrial engineer for Fuji Photo Film, Inc.

"The challenge was to increase the handling volume without increasing our operational staff," Butler says. " After an in-depth study of the process, we investigated the use of automated guided vehicles. The availability of an AGV that could perform in our very narrow aisle [VNA] application turned out to be the ultimate solution."

The AGV system was a considerable investment, Butler says. "We anticipated a return on that investment in under four years with the primary savings attributed to a reduction in labor cost. As we learn to use the system more efficiently we anticipate additional benefits, including: higher productivity, eliminating non-value added activities, continuous operation, less handling of products, reducing potential damage and more coordination when picking and storing pallets."

Fuji worked with AGV Products, Inc. (Charlotte, N.C.) to design and implement its Automated Warehouse System. The system maximizes floor space and storage density by using a combination of AGVs and conventional industrial trucks and material handling equipment. Its AGVs are modified VNA trucks from Hyster Co. (Greenville, N.C.) controlled by AGV Products' TRACE AGV system control software. The software interfaces with Fuji's existing warehouse management system to coordinate movement of all vehicles within the DC.

TRACE features inventory control as well as a variety of networking options. The heart of the system's user interface is a graphics package that displays the vehicle's position, load, and stationary equipment status and movement, in real-time.

"The full pallet storage area has the highest number of moves, so we chose to implement the AGV system there. Prior to the use of AGVs, we were utilizing manup VNA turret trucks in the rack area. Additional pallet moves required additional vehicles and AGVs eliminated the need for more drivers," Butler says. The facility has in-bound and out-bound accumulation conveyors in each aisle. The driverless operation is capable of complete "lights out" operation from the DC receiving area to the shipping dock.

In the dock area Fuji still transports pallets and loads trucks with conventional sit-down lift trucks and pallet jacks. Other areas of the DC use a variety of vehicles including sit down and stand up lift trucks, order pickers, side loaders and VNA trucks. Fuji's system was designed so that the AGVs could service all aisles in the warehouse.

"An ASRS fixed aisle concept would have required a crane for each aisle," Butler says. "The AGV solution is ideal for our application. We had relatively rigid parameters, for example, low ceilings, existing racks, etc., requiring the AGV system to adapt. Our storage racks are 7 levels high, with 30 pallet positions on each side of a very narrow aisle. Each storage location houses a pallet and the system has a capacity of 12,000 pallets."

"In the automated area we still utilize standard sit down forklifts to unload conveyors and load the trailers, but as handling volume increases we plan to add more AGVs to the system," he adds.

The biggest challenge during the installation was timing. "Unfortunately, implementation started during our peak-shipping season," Butler says. It required products to be removed from the racks and then reloaded using the AGVs. "With the large volume of products we were moving, this became very difficult and resulted in a great deal of overtime. However, everyone worked together and made this project a success in spite of the challenges."

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