Not long ago, the idea of an automated vehicle performing warehouse operations was a far-fetched, futuristic concept relegated to cartoons like the Jetsons. But nowadays, between robot vacuum cleaners and self-parking cars, we live in a world where this technology isn’t just possible, it’s  becoming more and more commonplace. 

One prime application of this technology is through Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), also commonly referred to as “self-guided vehicles” or “autonomous guided vehicles.” AGVs are unmanned vehicles that handle materials or carry loads in manufacturing and distribution facilities. These vehicles rely on floor markings, wires, radio waves, cameras, magnets, and/or lasers to safely navigate the facility, perform tasks, and avoid collisions. 

These unmanned vehicles have built a reputation for safety and efficiency. Businesses looking for new ways to increase productivity in manufacturing and distribution facilities are looking to this emerging technology to increase profits. The technology used in AGVs seeks to decrease human labor while increasing safety in environments where mobile equipment is mixed with pedestrian employees.

The Dangers of Human-Operated Vehicles

One of the primary motivators for switching from human-operated equipment to automated guided vehicles is to improve warehouse safety. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), forklift accidents claim one human life every three days. Nonfatal incidents are even more prevalent, with about 110,000 forklift accidents occurring each year, at least 80 percent of which involve a pedestrian. Most of these incidents occur when someone is walking or working near the forklift and is not seen by the forklift operator, either due to poor visibility, mechanical blind spots, poor reaction time, or operator error. 

Forklift-related injuries are incredibly costly for employers, between worker’s compensation and medical costs to lost time on the job and even lawsuits. It’s no wonder that many human-operated machines are being phased out in favor of AGVs to improve workplace safety and efficiency. 

Warehouse Automated Guided Vehicle Safety

While human-operated vehicles rely on the operator being attentive, using good judgment, and reacting quickly to obstacles and interferences around them, AGVs use technology to automate this process. According to Roger Bostelman, Project Manager in the Intelligent Systems Division at National Institute of Standards and Technology, “AGVs have onboard technology that can mitigate the risk to pedestrian employees.” Some of the safety capabilities include three-dimensional sensors paired with algorithms that provide the vehicles with information to help avoid potential collisions. 

Bostelman said the NIST is working with industry engineers and researchers to provide technical foundations to strengthen and expand safety standards. “NIST conducts experiments that provide data to support the development of test methods that augment safety standards for industrial vehicles.”

The safety standard Bostelman refers to is ANSI B56.5¹. These protocols were developed under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) canvass method and approved by ANSI in 2012. The standard is a guide to safety requirements for system suppliers, manufacturers, purchasers and users in the design, construction, application, operation and maintenance of unmanned guided industrial vehicles and automated functions of manned industrial vehicles.

Although AGVs are not immune to safety incidents, they are designed to be safer than manned mobile equipment. The technology built into AGVs is meant to offer safety features that are better able to curtail accidents than human judgment.

How Pedestrian Floor Markings Improve AGV Safety

While AGVs are equipped with safety sensors to stop the vehicles from colliding with a human or other obstacle, there are limitations to this technology. Even the NIST B56.5 AGV safety standards include an exception for obstacles suddenly appearing at less than the minimum AGV stopping distance. The exception states: “Although the vehicle braking system may perform correctly as intended, it cannot be expected to function properly if an object suddenly appears in its path inside of the designed safe stopping distance. Examples include, but are not limited to, an object falling from overhead or a pedestrian stepping into the path of a vehicle at the last instant.”

Most AGVs follow defined paths across the warehouse or facility. However, without adequate floor markings, pedestrians cannot predict the vehicles’ paths and may inadvertently cross in front of them. By using floor markings and tape to clearly define where the AVGs will travel, pedestrians can remain safely out of harm’s way, significantly reducing the risk of a collision. 

Floor Tape: The Preferred Option for Industrial Facilities with AGVs

Adhesive-backed tape, like Superior Mark® floor tape, is the ideal solution for marking these pathways. One of the reasons companies bring in these AGVs is flexibility. AGVs can be rerouted as your business expands or changes. By putting down your floor marking system using industrial-grade, adhesive-backed tape, you can easily pull it up and apply new floor markings where you need them. This is a lot faster than removing paint from concrete, preparing the concrete for paint, re-applying paint and letting it cure. It’s designed to last longer, as well—even when exposed to regular vehicular, forklift, or AGV traffic. Beveled edges prevent damage by sending traffic up and over the tape, preventing chipping and peeling damage.

As more and more automatic guided vehicles are used in manufacturing, distribution and logistics operations, the need to keep pedestrian employees safe is paramount. The onboard safety technology in AGVs continues to change and improve, significantly reducing the risk of injury in these facilities. And with advanced safety technology and equipment, excellent training, and visual cues like signs and floor markings, employee injuries in mobile equipment related accidents could shrink dramatically in the near future.