Drives and Controls Magazine
Autonomous high-bay forklifts are ‘the industry’s first’
Published:  10 September, 2020

US-based AutoGuide Mobile Robots claims to be offering the world's first autonomous mobile robots designed to automate racking and picking operations in high-bay warehouses. The AutoGuide Max-N High Bay counterbalanced forklifts can lift 1,100kg payloads to and from racks up to 11m high, and travel at speeds of up to 1.8m/s.

To reduce risks to employees in shared workspaces, the forklifts travel along approved, predictable paths. They use Lidar scanners and Slam (simultaneous localisation and mapping) technologies to map a facility in real time, and can navigate without needing floor tapes, even in low-light conditions. Non-contact collision avoidance systems protect personnel, and there are sensors that detect overhung obstacles for safer autonomous lifting in narrow aisles.

The forklifts use smart pallet and rack detection sensors for precision picking, and can identify empty pallets and track down specific LPNs (licence plate numbers) among a stack of pallets.

The vehicles work with a warehouse’s existing infrastructure, avoiding the need to invest in new racking systems or pallets. Installation can be completed “in weeks”.

The forklifts receive data from order and warehouse management systems using SurePath Enterprise software, which defines the most efficient route for each job.

“Traditional high-bay operations can be complex and potentially dangerous,” says AutoGuide’s president and CEO, Rob Sullivan. “Due to this complexity, operations risk product damage and employee injury. Autonomous solutions like the Max-N High Bay, on the other hand, increase efficiencies and keep both employees and products safe, providing an excellent return-on-investment in high-bay environments.”

The forklifts are part of AutoGuide’s patent-pending modular autonomous mobile robot system designed to maximise fleet flexibility and uptime. Simply by changing adapters, the vehicles can be converted to pallet stackers or tow tractors.

AutoGuide’s autonomous forklifts automate high-bay operations, lifting 1,100kg pallets through heights of up to 11m.

Unlike most autonomous industrial vehicles, which are retrofitted versions of manual vehicles, AutoGuide engineers and builds its vehicles from scratch to be autonomous material transport robots. On-board touchscreens allow floor workers to switch the vehicles to a manual mode. Counterbalance mechanics allow the forklifts to drive up to tall racks for faster picking and placing.

The high-bay forklifts are part of a mobile ASRS (autonomous storage and retrieval system), also announced by AutoGuide. Inventory management software links with a facility’s warehouse management system and inventory management applications to keep track of inventories, manage finished goods or work in progress, and provide daily cycle counting.

Sullivan says that, as part of the ASRS, the autonomous forklifts “can safely and efficiently transport materials from the receiving dock directly to the storage racks without the need for conveyor systems or other inflexible material-handling infrastructure. When connected to detailed, facility-wide inventory awareness, the Max-N High Bay can get material exactly where it belongs.”

Massachusetts-based AutoGuide was acquired in November 2019 by the Californian test and automation company Teradyne, which also owns the cobot pioneer Universal Robots (UR) and Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR), both of which are based in Denmark.