AIV robots speed up goods flows in the warehouse

AIV robot: what is it and how does it work?

12 July 2022

An AIV (autonomous intelligent vehicle) robot is an ideal conveying system for operating in warehouses requiring a large number of goods movements as well as flexible internal flow paths.

To operate, AIV robots use artificial intelligence (AI) to learn and to move as a conventional forklift would. However, they do this without operators or guidance elements, avoiding people and obstacles that stand in their way.

What’s an AIV robot?

AIV robots are autonomous intelligent vehicles that move in a logistics facility or production centre without the help of guidance elements or drivers to directly control them.

Also known as AMRs (autonomous mobile robots), this type of autonomous conveying system employs technology, specifically AI, to learn to navigate without guidance systems.

AIVs are used to efficiently connect and transport goods between the different areas of a warehouse, logistics facility, or production centre and to follow the goods-to-person order picking method. With this type of picking strategy, AIVs are charged with bringing the products directly to the operator.

As with other robotic handling equipment, i.e., automatic conveyor systems, AIV robots are used in environments with continuous and repetitive material flows: by working nonstop, they boost productivity.

Operation of AIV robots

AIV robots run completely autonomously through the use of technologies such as AI and machine learning. AIVs employ scanners to create a map of their working area, generating faster, safer routes and without the need for guides, wires, or magnetic strips. AIV robots can incorporate elements such as sensors, GPS, inertial navigation, and machine vision to improve their perception of their surroundings.

AIV control systems are connected to the warehouse management system (WMS) and to the company’s ERP system in order to follow orders and travel to the correct destination.

Additionally, AIV robots can share space with people thanks to their sophisticated safety devices, fostering collaborative robotics. Their design ensures that an operator can safely interact with the machine, ensuring the protection of both the worker and the goods.

AIV robots are connected to the WMS to move loads to the required destination
AIV robots are connected to the WMS to move loads to the required destination

Differences between AGVs and AIVs

Autonomous intelligent vehicles (AIV robots) are the natural evolution of AGV (automated guided vehicle) robots. These are the main ways in which AGV and AIV robots differ: 

  • Navigation system: while AGVs follow a preset route via a laser- or wire-guided navigation system, AIV robots use an autonomous navigation system that adapts their route according to the information received from their environment in real time.
  • Adaptability: AGVs move along a closed circuit; thus, when they encounter an object that hinders their movement, they stop immediately to avoid a collision and wait for it to be removed. AIV robots, on the other hand, are capable of creating an alternative route if an object crosses their path. 
  • Cost: the price per unit of an AGV is generally lower than that of an AIV robot. However, as opposed to AIVs, the implementation of AGVs calls for modifications to your infrastructure to install the wires or magnetic strips required for the vehicles to navigate.

Despite the various differences between AGV and AIV robots, your choice of one internal conveying system or another will depend on the application, the environment, and the specific demands of your business.

As opposed to AIV robots, AGVs travel through the warehouse following a preset route
As opposed to AIV robots, AGVs travel through the warehouse following a preset route

Example of an AIV robot: the case of Normagrup

Normagrup, a leading Spanish company in the emergency lighting market, leveraged the benefits of AIV robots in its production plant in Asturias (Spain).

Our company outfitted Normagrup’s production centre with an automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS) managed by Easy WMS software. To connect the warehouse with the three production lines, four AIVs were installed. These robots move raw materials from the storage area to production autonomously.

Before entering the raw material in the AS/RS, the AIVs deposit the boxes on conveyors, where they go through a checkpoint. For outbound products, automation makes it possible to work according to the goods-to-person method, increasing throughput and optimising operator travel. Once a product is ready, Easy WMS notifies the software that manages the AIVs so that a vehicle will pick it up and take it to the production line that requires it.

To ensure that Normagrup’s supply chain would work at full capacity and without errors, it was necessary to connect the different automated elements operating in it. Normagrup General Manager Mikel Jaureguizar says: “Mecalux responded to all our needs and requirements, including the complexity of connecting the AIVs with the warehouse.”

In search of the perfect internal conveying system

Besides AGV and AIV robots, the market features other high-automation goods movement systems for warehousing, e.g., conveyors and electrified monorails. A business will opt for one system or another depending on its logistics needs, so it’s critical to do your logistics planning in advance to obtain the best performance.

At Mecalux, we’re experts in implementing integrated logistics solutions. We offer personalised warehousing systems designed to achieve highly efficient logistics processes. Looking to boost your supply chain with robotic conveyor systems? Get in touch. We’ll give you advice and come up with a tailor-made solution.