The key to true automation – wireless charging

Harold Vanasse -
Your Focus
- 22 Feb 2024 ( #1167 )
3 min read
Is wireless charging the way of the future?
Is wireless charging the way of the future?
Harold Vanasse is the senior director of global marketing, motive power at EnerSys

The automated guided vehicles (AGV) industry is becoming increasingly competitive amongst original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with solutions tailored to the needs of warehouses and other material handling operations.

But this competitive situation is also matched by the broad options that AGV OEMs can provide to differentiate themselves based on the energy-related capabilities of their AGV equipment. 

Market pressures ranging from fluctuating energy costs to sustainability requirements are driving power system advancements such as maintenance-free lithium-ion and thin plate pure lead (TPPL) battery technologies, energy management tools and software that can deliver real-time alerts directly to the customer’s mobile phone and more.

These innovations provide extraordinary opportunities for AGV OEMs to differentiate their systems by enhancing overall end-user efficiency.

Quickly rising among these solutions are wireless charging systems, which will be the next major step forward in warehouse productivity when it comes to AGV systems. 

While current approaches for charging, such as battery changing, manual plug-ins or “hot shoe” systems have been acceptable solutions to-date, they fall short when it comes to modern operations, labour challenges and the promise of full automation.

This is because each method still requires some level of human intervention to keep AGV equipment powered on a daily basis. 

Though human involvement is clearly needed for battery changes and manual plug-ins, “hot shoe” systems appear to automate the process to a certain extent.

However, “hot shoes” still involve mechanical connections between the charger and AGV which require routine cleaning, maintenance and even replacement, not to mention the human intervention and costs that accompany it.

Failing to properly maintain these connections can also impact everything from equipment safety to overall charging efficiency and extension of charging periods.

Wireless charging replaces these traditional charging methods, providing a fully automated charging operation that eliminates the human maintenance and contact wear associated with physical connections between the AGV battery and charger.

This provides AGV OEMs a powerful differentiator versus their competitors based on critical operational concerns for end-customers. 

For starters, if cutting charging system costs aren’t enough, the space-saving design of wireless chargers, devoid of long plug-in cables and extra “hot shoe” footprint, free up valuable floor space and provide additional flexibility for placement throughout the facility.

Since they often work in tandem, this flexibility helps the AGV OEM to optimise the routing of the AGV units for missions, while also enabling end customers to better optimise the overall layout of their facility.  

Wireless charging systems can also communicate with automated equipment and warehouse management systems (WMS) via the AGV’s data connection to provide real-time charging updates to the facility management - monitoring power levels to keep operations running smoothly. 

But when the time comes to select a power system for your AGV fleet, it’s critical to make a thorough assessment of your facility and application to ensure it’s the right choice.

Some key questions to consider when getting ready to specify power systems for AGVs include:

  • How can the selected energy system affect the ROI period of the automation investment?
  • Beyond initial purchase costs, what are the longer-term operational costs of running and maintaining the system? 
  • How scalable is the charging system for future growth plans or changes in required throughput levels?
  • How many types of AGVs will be operating within the facility? If there are multiple types, can the charging system be used across the entire fleet, or will you need discrete charging systems for each type of AGV?   
  • Since each deployment has its own operating parameters and profiles, how will the charging system communicate with the AGV and supporting systems, such as your WMS? 
  • Given the critical nature of your operations and costs for failure, what are the resource and experience levels of both your AGV OEM and power supplier? Do they have the resources to fully support your entire deployment and how will they support your ongoing operations after deployment? 

For warehouse and material handling operations, investing in wireless charging to further enhance the efficiency of AGV fleets could be key in fulfilling the true promise of automation - eliminating costs associated with human involvement for the charging process and maintenance associated with physical charging connections. 

For AGV OEMs, wireless charging offers the possibility to be one step ahead of competitors by including it as part of their turnkey system offering.

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