Comparing 4 Labor-Savers in Manufacturing that Increase Productivity

posted on: Friday September 11, 2015

uspo Load MoverManufacturers of all sizes face numerous challenges to productivity. Among them are safety concerns, available manpower, plant layout, and production speed. Automation and material handling equipment have improved manufacturing immensely, but how do you know what is right for you?

When getting material from point A to point B, there are four popular solutions to productivity challenges. They are:

  • Conveyor systems
  • Fork lifts
  • Automated Guided Vehicles
  • Smart Tugs

While each can drastically improve productivity, they all have their pros and cons. If you need to improve productivity at your facility, consider the following comparisons.

Conveyor Systems

Pros: The main benefit of conveyor systems is that they can constantly be working and moving material down a line. There is little risk of danger if it breaks, and there is no physical effort required to move materials. Additionally, you don’t need a certified individual to load or unload a conveyor system. Conveyor systems can speed up a process that is otherwise slowed by human restrictions or layout flaws.

Cons: The greatest downside of these systems is that they are fixed. As discussed in this article: “For parts deliveries to a production line, horizontal space is at a premium…Production engineers can be reluctant to build fixed solutions, such as a conveyor, because the process may need to change going forward.” This is especially true with the tendency to move towards a lean or Just in Time system.

Price: $50K – $100K
Pros: For many, there is no choice in whether to use a forklift. Product needs to be moved up and down, and this mainstay of manufacturing is an efficient way to do so. With proper safety measures in place, a forklift is a very useful machine for several applications.

Cons: Unfortunately, forklifts have become major insurance liabilities that are inferior to other equipment for many applications. They are large in size and require extra space around them to prevent injury to personnel and damage to other equipment. Visibility is limited when the lift truck is carrying the load. The operator has to be certified to drive the forklift. Maintenance for these trucks is also quite costly. They are also not energy-efficient compared to other options.

Cost: $20K – $50K

Automated Guided Vehicles (also Automatic Guided Vehicles, or AGVs)

Pros: This equipment played a big role when Toyota pioneered lean manufacturing. Requiring no manpower, they are programmed to move heavy loads throughout an operation. They eliminate risk of injury from strain, and can haul a lot of material for a long distance.

Cons: The capital equipment investment in AGVs is the greatest downside. These are expensive, so if you have any sitting idle, you are prolonging your ROI. Considering the cost, many manufacturers don’t really need such a sophisticated system.

Price: $100K or more

Smart Tugs (also called electric powered tugs, tuggers, and cart pushers)

Pros: At a fraction of the price for an AGV, an electric powered tug pushes and pulls heavy loads through a production environment. It does require an operator to maneuver the carts but it is not limited in its travels by the system’s infrastructure. It still accomplishes most things the AGV does: eliminates strain and risk of injury, provides a safer mode of transport for materials than do forklifts, is energy and space efficient, and capable of hauling tens of thousands of pounds in one trip. As for the human component, they lend to a very efficient Management by Walking Around strategy. A cart can also be parked with product on it for periods of time and once needed, a tugger can be used to pull the cart into the production cell.

Cons: Since humans are needed to operate this equipment, they do require a production worker to maneuver the load. Also, while they can substitute forklifts for horizontal movement, they cannot assist with vertical lifting and lower of product.

Price: $10K or less

Given the options, the least expensive and greatest ROI solution is the Smart/Power Tug. This is also one of the most effective solutions for productivity. The right choice for you will depend on your application, space, and budget.For information on how a Smart Tug would benefit your production, contact Load Mover, Inc. at 952-767-1720 or