Standing narrow and tall

March 19, 2008
An automated guided vehicle system helps Fujifilm develop more efficient distribution throughput in its South Carolina facility.

In 1999, Fujifilm Manufacturing U.S.A. Inc. in Greenwood, S.C., began a 130,000-sq.-ft. distribution center expansion project dictated by an anticipated 50% increase in material-handling volume. Keith Butler, distribution center manager, says, “The challenge was to increase the handling volume without increasing our operational staff. After an in-depth study of the process, we investigated the use of automated guided vehicles (AGVs). The availability of an AGV that could perform in our very narrow aisle application turned out to be the ultimate solution.” The automated system they designed includes four narrow-aisle turret trucks from AGV Products, Inc., Charlotte, N.C., and inbound and outbound accumulation conveyors for each aisle.

Fujifilm U.S.A. Inc. is a U.S. marketing subsidiary of Fujifilm Corp., Tokyo, Japan, providing digital and analog photographic imaging systems, recording/storage media and motion-picture film products and services to consumers, professionals and businesses. The company was established in the United States in 1965 and is headquartered in Valhalla, N.Y., with offices and distribution centers throughout the country. Fujifilm serves a broad spectrum of industries, including medical, life sciences, consumer electronic, chemical, graphic arts, information systems, photography and office products.

The company’s Greenwood facility began manufacturing operations at the 500-acre campus in 1988, when the company announced the construction of its first U.S. factory for the production of pre-sensitized plates for the graphic arts market. The manufacturing complex includes five high-tech manufacturing plants, the Greenwood Research Laboratories, and the largest Fujifilm distribution center in the world. The 1,200 employees at Greenwood manufacture digital and conventional imaging products.

The distribution center has three main areas: raw materials, partial picking operations and full-pallet operations. Products from each of the seven manufacturing plants on the campus are stored at the distribution center for delivery to regional distribution centers.

The Greenwood facility is a strategic production hub in the Fujifilm family of companies around the world. "During the past few years, we’ve added several digital products that required additional storage capacity and increased our material-handling needs,” Butler explains. In addition to conventional imaging and information products, the facility now manufactures digital photographic paper, digital printing plates and digital dry medical imaging film.

Butler adds, “The increased volume dictated a more cost-efficient method of handling inbound and outbound loads. We added approximately 130,000 sq. ft. to the distribution center, but we didn’t want to add operating staff. We investigated other material-handling methods and finalized on automated guided vehicles (AGV). The full pallet-storage area has the greatest number of moves, so Fujifilm chose to implement the AGV system there. Before using AGVs, we were using man-up very narrow aisle (VNA) turret trucks in the rack area. Additional pallet moves required additional vehicles, and AGVs eliminated the need for more drivers.”

In the dock area Butler says they still transport pallets and load trucks with conventional sit-down forklifts and pallet jacks. The other areas of the distribution center employ a variety of vehicles, including sit-down forklifts, stand-up forklifts, order pickers, side loaders and VNA trucks.

“As we learn to use the system more efficiently we anticipate additional benefits, including higher productivity, eliminating non-value-added activities, continuous operation (no breaks, etc.), less handling of products, reducing potential damage and more coordination when picking and storing pallets,” Butler says.

The system was designed so the AGVs could service every aisle in the warehouse. An automated storage/retrieval system fixed-aisle concept would have required a crane for each aisle. “The AGV solution is ideal for our application, he adds. “We had relatively rigid parameters, i.e., low ceilings, existing racks, etc., requiring the AGV system to be adaptable. Our storage racks are seven levels high, with 30 pallet positions on each side of a very narrow aisle. Each storage location houses a pallet and the system has a capacity of 12,000 pallets.”
Butler adds, “The biggest challenge during the installation was timing. Unfortunately, implementation started during our peak shipping season and it required products to be removed from the racks and then reloaded with the AGVs. With the large volume of products we were moving, this became difficult and resulted in a great deal of overtime. However, everyone worked together and made this project a success in spite of the challenges.”

The Fujifilm application is one of AGV Products’ first installations of an automated warehouse system that offers continuous operation, reduced plant damage, improved logistics and safety, advanced material tracking and reduced labor requirements. Typical applications can be found in a variety of facilities, such as warehouse and distribution centers, manufacturing plants, beverage and food processing plants, third-party logistics providers and e-commerce companies.

Warehouses benefit from the marriage of AGV technology and conventional industrial trucks. The system combines a modified VNA truck manufactured by Hyster Co. and AGV Products’ guidance controls and software, as directed by their Traffic Routing AGV Command Executor (TRACE) system controller. The driverless operation is capable of complete “lights out” operation from the warehouse receiving area to the shipping dock. Best of all, the vehicles can be introduced into current operations using the existing racking and floor.

Introducing automated turret trucks into the automated warehouse allows users to maximize floor space and storage density. Rack aisle widths can be set as little as 18 in. wider than the widest load to be handled, and, in almost every situation, the facility’s existing racking can be used. The trucks handle loads weighing 4,000 lbs at a maximum extended height of 24 ft. They’re equipped with a hydraulic rack-and-pinion turret that’s capable of rotating 180°, allowing the truck to access both sides of the aisle without turning around. Once automated, these vehicles retain their manual operational features, which can be reactivated with the turn of a key switch.

The Automated Warehouse System uses AGV Products’ advanced TRACE AGV System Control Software that interfaces with the existing warehouse-management system to coordinate movement of vehicles within the warehouse. TRACE runs the Windows 2000 operating system on a Pentium PC and features inventory control as well as a variety of networking options. The heart of the system’s user interface is a graphics package that displays the vehicle’s position, load and stationary equipment status, and movement, in real time.

For more information, contact AGV Products Inc. at (704) 845-1110

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