Introducing Driverless Forklifts That Can Operate in Dark

Forklift ThicknessAgfa-Gevaert is a French company that makes analog and digital imaging systems and other IT solutions for the printing and healthcare industries. At its facility in Pont a Marcq, it makes heavy offset plates that need to be transported via forklift from the manufacturing area to the storage area.

The problem is that the manufacturing area is inside a darkroom, where there can be no light. So traditional forklifts, which require drivers who can see, wasn’t going to work.

So the company turned to Rocla, materials handling and solutions company headquartered in Finland, for help.

Blind, Driverless Forklifts

Rocla proivded Agfa-Gevaert with automated guided vehicles (AGVs), which essentially are driverless forklifts. What made these vehicles unique was that they were the first AGVs with the ability to operate entirely the dark.

Christian Roekens, Agfa-Gevaert’s production and inner logistics manager, said the “blind AGVs” were the perfect solution.

“We wanted first to automate the roll transport from a stock into production machine that is situated in our dark room as earlier we handled films and they required dark space,” Roekens said. “This was almost ten years ago and at that time I heard about Rocia’s AGVs. Our first AGV was delivered in 2005 and this project went very well.”

Vehicles that Can ‘See’ in the Dark

The blind AGVs use a special kind of laser navigational system that can operate in the dark. Because it doesn’t require light to “see” where it is going, it can work inside darkrooms and other spaces where light can be harmful.

The driverless vehicles use WiFi to communicate with management about which loads to move and where they have to go. Agfa-Gevaert also keeps in contact with Rocla online to immediately resolve any issues that may occur.

Great Solution for Tight Spaces

Another benefit of the blind AGvs is that they can operate within very narrow spaces, such as Agfa-Gevaert’s old factory buildings. Prior to the use of these vehicles, graphics materials were loaded with cranes, then transported with operator-driven warehouse trucks, a process that was problematic and time-consuming.

The blind AGVs make that inflexible system obsolete.

“Our personnel were very happy that they don’t have to load the crane anymore, as we had some difficulties when transporting pallets with manual trucks in the challenging narrow areas,” Roekens said.

Management Asked the Experts

When the company was trying to come up with innovative solutions to their specialized problems, they asked the people who were most familiar with these on the job challenges: Their employees.

“For example, our people told me that transferring the empty pallets from the machine by hand is very heavy,” he said. “Earlier they had to create a stack of empty pallets using muscular power which causes strain in back and hand. Therefore, we wanted the AGV to do this. Now our personnel don’t want to work without AGVs.”


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