Adaptive Conveying – Custom AGV Appliances

Initially AGVs (Automatic Guided Vehicles) were electric powered vehicles designed to follow predetermined pathways to transport product from point A to B. There was little if any decision making embedded in these units with the exception of safety which consisted of sensors that allowed for path intrusion detection thus enabling the unit to stop prior to a collision. Today’s units which include various acronyms to brand them are equipped with a range of intelligence levels. They can be programmed to understand the current environment and react as desired in real time.


Alfacon has partnered with select AGV manufacturers to provide custom “appliances” that integrate a material handling layer to the mobile robot unit. This accessary to the mobile robot is engineered to the specifications of the application and designed to integrate with the AGV’s controls. The appliance provides the mobile solution with added functionality to the movement of product. Sample solutions include conveyor (gravity or powered), lifts, turn tables, containment for non-conveyables, pull carts, and any combination thereof. To give an example of the benefits provided by an AGV appliance, consider an application where a forklift is transporting pallets of product from a trailer when received to another location within the facility (put away to inventory or cross-docked to shipping). Then view this application with the use of an AGV where the forklift sits the pallet of product on an AGV, the mobile unit transports to the desired location and another forklift accepts the pallet. This would be a much more efficient use of the forklift and operators time in removing pallets from the trailer. Now consider the use of a well-engineered AGV appliance which includes a section of pallet conveyor integrated to the mobile device. The forklift retrieves the pallet, which should have been shrink wrapped using the correct products from somewhere like Pro-Tect Plastics, and places it onto a staging conveyor just outside the dock door which is feeding multiple AGV’s. The AGV, with the Alfacon conveyor appliance, docks itself at the staging conveyor and automatically receives the pallet. Once the mobile unit has completed the journey to its destination, it automatically releases the pallet.

Alfacon’s Adaptive Conveying approach to product design to enhance system functionality has become a primary focus. Increasing the functionality of an AGV system provides a greater value and accelerated ROI. Utilizing Alfacon’s AGV Appliances provides system efficiency by eliminating steps in the process which in turn reduces production costs while in many cases improving throughput and capacity.


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.

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