On the first day of Dutch Agri Food Week in the hall of Villa Flora Venlo one could see a compact mobile robot industriously carrying a box of tomatoes on its top. That was Packman – one of the AGVs (automated guided vehicles) produced by Probotics. AGVs have been in use for internal logistics in different industries for many years, and now they are coming to agriculture as well.
The Business Owner of Probotics, Henk Kiela, sees the place of AGVs in SMEs of the agricultural sector – mostly in greenhouses: “We work with some quite advanced vegetable growers: they change their crops from month to month – this is arranged in a way that is different from classic greenhouses. These farmers need staff everywhere because lots of materials and products have to be carried and people have to move long distances.” These large greenhouses have some logistics systems and AGVs can be added to them because they require no infrastructure and it is possible to make them custom-built to fit. “In the existing logistic systems workers need to collect things on the pallets, to ask a forklift driver to pick them up, to bring it somewhere and to unpack it again – that means lots of manual work to get the logistics done. AGVs can take smaller quantities of materials and come more frequently from point A to point B – on demand,” says Henk Kiela.
How smart are AGVs? They are capable of finding the position from natural features of the environment, they “know” where materials are, pick them up, drive to the drop-off point and they have safety zones for automatic braking – for people and obstacles.
Henk Kiela mentioned some thought-provoking facts in his presentation in Brightlnds Campus Greenport Venlo: the skilled workers spend 20% of their entire work time on carrying materials and goods from one place to another. “Besides, they face a health risk because of overloading and the repetitive lifting and handling of heavy articles.” As Henk Kiela says, employing AGVs improves the safety of the workplace and allows to use less workforce for the logistic purposes, which is important now, when the Netherlands experiences labour shortage. “With AVGs you increase productivity, gain time and more flexibility because you can carry smaller loads – and it still can be done at a low price,” sums up his presentation the Business owner of Probotics.