Adaptive Conveying and AGV Appliances

Adaptive Conveying and AGV Appliances

More than a decade ago, Assembly magazine postulated that there was a battle between AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) and conveys. Now we know better. The two are not adversarial options, but rather cooperative elements in adaptive conveying.

The argument was to question whether conveyors still make sense in the lean, flexible manufacturing, and materials handling world. With companies like Materials Handling Australia offering the highest quality handling products, the way the manufacturing process is carried out in warehouses and factories always needs to be looked at and improved which is why these questions are asked. There was, and still is, advocacy for AGVs as an alternative for material handling, depending on the specific application.

For 105 years conveyors have been a common sight in manufacturing plants and on April 1, 1913, the first moving assembly line for a large-scale manufacturing application began to operate at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Highland Park, MI. For some industries, this is still the most efficient method, although advancements have come a long way and the systems used to run these conveyors are more complex to meet the demands of modern day manufacturing. Just one way in which the conveyor system has evolved was the creation of conveyor belt scraping equipment. Without the need for hands-on cleaning, the assembly line was minimally interrupted and meant that there were not long waits for cleaning, allowing the system to continue with operations.

Facilities with extensive conveyor systems no longer have production space chopped up by the conveyor solutions; no longer are conveyors an impediment to travelling through the plant. The limits of the past decade no longer apply and the movement to fork truck free was the shift, not the conveyor solution.

Alfacon Solutions works with some of the leading AGV companies globally building custom appliances that allow the value proposition of an AGV to capture a much faster ROI. It was difficult to calculate when plant layout and designed forced operators to work around the conveyor system. Lean manufacturing and continuous improvement activities have been carefully designed with adaptive conveying in mind; significant inventory is not aligned on the conveyor, because AGVs can handle small loads more frequently, allowing the conveyors power consumption to be used on an as-needed basis.


AGVs allow moving product from point A to point B with a flexibility that can adjust easily to changes and with Alfacon’s adaptive conveying model, routes can be redefined when the need arises without the infrastructure changes formerly required by conveyors. These AGV appliances work in consort with the AGVs offering faster and more intuitive ways of adapting an existing system to new business rules.

Conveyors will continue to play an important role in manufacturing. In fact, smaller and more modular conveyors have created new options in flexibility. Integrated intelligence and control in the assembly process have also allowed for a higher level of automation than previously existed.

Many plant floors today typically have more conveyors that are shorter and feature more sophisticated controls than their predecessors. In addition, high-efficiency motors that deliver variable speeds and constant torques help today’s generation of conveyors be much more flexible than in the past.

The widespread use of extruded aluminum structural profiles has also spurred the use of modular conveyors. They allow engineers to bolt-together components that can be reconfigured in response to changes in product mix or production volume. Alfacon Solutions fully utilizes these best practices by offering modular, reconfigurable conveyors which allow for layout changes.

When making automation decisions, the answer will be both AGVs or conveyors, because manufacturing engineers must carefully consider both cost and flexibility. Alfacon Solutions helps to figure out how to reduce materials conveyance in conjunction with AGVs.

An AGV conveying appliance is just another new innovation part of leadership in adaptive conveying.

AGV appliance

Alfacon Solutions ( is a leading custom material handling solutions company providing custom design, engineering, manufacturing and installation support for its customer base of small manufacturers to Fortune 500 companies. Its products include lifting equipment, package and pallet handling conveyors, sortation systems, truck loaders, extendable and vertical conveyors, belt and roller conveyor systems and AGV appliances.

View Alfacon Solutions’ seminar presentation, “Adaptive Conveying”, presented at the 2018 MODEX in Atlantic, GA.

John Murdoch
John Murdoch is CEO of Alfacon Solutions Ltd., based in Canada. Murdoch is a thought-leader in both the manufacturing and materials handling sectors. Leveraging more than a quarter century of experience, Murdoch brings a unique perspective to engineered material handling solutions and the role of automation. Murdoch can be reached at