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The Automated Guided Vehicle Problem in Logistics Operations

Zhaowei Miao , Guojun Ji , Rui Qiang , and Fan Wang


of Management, Xiamen University, Fujian, China of Management, Fuzhou University, Fujian, China School of Business, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China
School School

AbstractIn this paper, we introduce a model for designing a automatic guided vehicle system (AGVS) with multiple automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) operating under some given strategies and xed layout. In our model, we take two cargoes into consideration, i.e. two cargoes entering AGVS. We make an assumption that we have known all the information about the rst cargo already such as the entering entry and the leaving entry, but the information of the second one is random. Then we develop a two-stage stochastic program model for this problem. Because of its complexity , the optimal solution is difcult to obtain within a short time so that to get optimization is not operable in the real-world application. As a result, we adopt heuristic methods to solve it and do simulation to nd useful insights. Key words: AGV stochastic program, optimization, heuristic,

I. I NTRODUCTION Since widely used from 1974, Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV, hereafter) has been popularized all over the world rapidly. AGV are becoming popular in automatic materials handling systems, exible manufacturing systems and even container-handling applications in seaports of late (Evers and Koppers [6], Kim and Bae [7], Ye et al. [14]). GE and other big companies adopted AGV-served system to realize the highly automated material operations. In the past few decades, much research has been devoted to the technology of AGV systems and rapid progress has been witnessed. As one of the enabling technologies, scheduling and routing of AGVs have attracted considerable attention. Many algorithms for the scheduling and routing of AGVs have been proposed. The aim of AGV scheduling is to dispatch a set of AGVs to achieve the goals for a batch of pickup/dropoff jobs under certain constraints such as deadlines, priority, etc. The goals are normally related to the processing time or utilization of resources, such as minimizing the number of AGVs involved while maintaining the system throughput, or minimizing the total travel time of all vehicles (Akturk and Yilmaz [1], Chang Ho Yang et al. [17], Goswami and Tiwari [13]), and the likes. Once the scheduling decision is made, the mission of routing is to nd a suitable route (e.g. shortest-distance path, shortest-time path or minimal energy path, minimal response time) (Daniels [5], Jose A Ventura and
Correspondence to: Zhaowei Miao (e-mail: miaozhaowei@gmail.com, tel: 86-592-2182618).

Chulung Lee [18], Sarker and Gurav [15]) for every AGV from its origin to destination based on the current trafc situation. The routing decision involves two issues. First, it should detect whether there exists a route that could lead a vehicle from its origin to destination. For instance, in the indirect transfer system (Bartholdi and Platzman [2], Bozer and Park [3], Bozer and Srinivasan [4]), if the destination is not in the same loop of the origin, there is no way for a vehicle to achieve its task without transferring its load to the other AGVs serving the other loops. Second, the route selected for the vehicle must be feasible, which means the route must be congestion-, conictand deadlock-free (Taghaboni and Tanchoco [10], Ying-Chin Ho [14], Ardavan and Gilbert [16]). Most research has focused on AGVS with unit-load capacity, though multiple-load AGVS are frequently used in practice, Occena and Yokota [9] and Nayyar and Khator [8] compared unit-load and multiple-load AGVS using simulation and showed the multiple-load AGVS can increase performance. Thonemann and Brandeau [11] were the rst to use an analytical approach for the design of multiple-load AGVS. They developed a model for the design of a single-vehicle AGVS with multiple-load capacity that operates on a single loop, carrying material from a central depot to shop oor workcenters under a simple go-when-lled dispatching rule. Their model determines which workcenters to include in the AGVS and the consequent guide path layout to maximize the monetary net benet of the system subject to a constraint that expected time until delivery does not exceed a given limit. Our problem is motivated by a real AGV system in an air cargo terminal. In this paper, we introduce a general model for designing a multiple-vehicle AGVS with unit-load capacity operating under some given policies for a straightline-type layout of AGVS. The type of layout has several AGVs installed along a straight-line track, both sides of which are equipped with many entries, one side just for the cargo entering the AGVS and the other just for leaving. Only two cargoes are considered in our model. We make an assumption that we have known all the information about the rst cargo already such as the entering entry and the leaving entry, but the information of the second one is random. Then we develop a two-stage stochastic program model to determine the minimum transportation time for delivering these two cargoes through AGVS under some given pick-up and delivery rule. Meanwhile, because such kind of optimal solution is difcult

978-1-4244-1672-1/08/$25.00 2008 IEEE.

to obtain and not operable easily in the real-world application, we also give some operable policies and do the simulation to compare all the results to get some useful insight. This paper is arranged as follows. Section 2 describes the stochastic program model, including problem description, some necessary assumptions, notation and formulation. In section 3, methodology is developed and we also do simulation for some given policies in section 4. Section 5 reports the conclusion and also give some future work. II. S TOCHASTIC P ROGRAM M ODEL A. Problem Description Our problem is motivated by a real project, which is conducted with an air cargo terminal in Hong Kong, and gure 1 illustrates the layout of AGV system. Considering the conguration of existing AGV networks, we desire to nd a good AGV operations policy to scheduling the movement of AGVs networks, so as to increasing the efciency of AGV networks.

to destination. As a rule, the procedure, as which how from one AGV to another is specied by the model, is already determined and would be studied in the experiment. Note that the pick up AGV and the delivery AGV could be identical. Note also that when one AGV moves, other AGVs might move to give way to the rst one. The choice of the movement procedure impacts the position distribution of the AGVs and therefore, the next stage operations. This makes sense when the demand arrival of next stage is stochastic. In the second stage of our problem, the cargo arrives in the entry points with some given stochastic distribution, and so does it leave. When the stochastic issue realized, we also design the best plan to move the target cargo, by determining the pickup AGV and delivery AGV. In our problem, the cost is measure as the time used to move the goods from the origin to destination. The speed of AGV takes unit velocity, while the start and stop times are ignored. Considering the complexity of transfer between AGVs, the transfer operations are highly penalized. Intuitively, in case when only one AGV is used to move the cargo, the moving time elapsed is least. However, to give ways to the assigned AGV, the resulting positions might follow a bad pattern. In stead, by transferring goods to another AGV, the distribution pattern would be better though more time is spent. Therefore, a trade-off potential arises and provides research room to our study. B. Assumptions and Notations

Fig. 1.

The AGV System Layout

In our problem, the AGV network is constructed in a straight line, along which there are a number of entry and exit points. These points are indexed as discrete numbers and we assume the AGVs can only stop at those points. Due to the conguration of the current system, we assume the AGVs is unit-load. Therefore, each time, only one unit cargo is processed. In the real operations, uncertainty is always a critical problem, and provides, however, research potentials. To cope with the random demand arrival issue, we take the advantages of stochastic program and formulation it as two-stage stochastic programming. To initialize our problem, we suppose a set of AGVs are moving on a segment of track. They can not swap their positions due to the xed infrastructure. However, to facilitate our study and simplify our discussion, we assume the AGVs are able to transfer goods from one to another if they are in consecutive sites. In real system, this operation is conducted via buffer. One AGV transfer the cargo to buffer and then the other AGV pick it up to continue the movement. However, the transfer action takes much time and is treated as a costly operation. In the rst stage problem we are facing the rst arrived goods. In details, the positions of all AGVs and the origin and destination point of a cargo are known. We are about to decide how to move the goods from the origin to the destination. Specically, in our problem, we are to determine which AGV to move to origin to pick it and which AGV to delivery it

Even in the simplest case, the scheduling and operations of AGV network are complicated. To facilitate our study, we make these assumptions as following. (1) The AGVs are unit-load. Therefore, each time one AGV can move only one unit of cargo; (2) The second cargo is unknown when the system is processing the rst cargo. And the second cargo would be processed after the system completes the rst cargo even in case it arrives before the rst cargo is nished; (3) The positions of AGVs can NOT be swapped. Therefore, the sequence of the AGVs is xed once the system is created; (4) The AGVs could transfer the cargo from one to another at any place once they are in consecutive sites. However, the transfer incurs much time consumption; (5) When one AGV moves, other AGVs might move to give ways; (6) The AGVs move in unit speed, and the startup and ceasing time are ignored. Before we state our formulation mathematically, we present notations rst. For the whole problem: n: the number of stops of either entry or exit points. The positions of the entry and exit points are indexed as 1, 2, ..., n; k: the number of the AGVs. The AGVs are indexed as 1, 2, ..., k;

c: the transferring time between two adjoining AGVs, and c >> 1. For the rst stage, parameters are: (aO , aD ): the origin and destination position pair of rst cargo; (s1 , s2 , ..., sk ): positions of AVGs at the beginning of the rst stage. The position of AGVs should satisfy si is an integer number on [1, n] and si + 1 si+1 , for each i at any time. And the decision variables are: xi : binary, and is 1 if vehicle i is used to pick up the cargo at the rst stage, and 0 otherwise; xi : binary, and is 1 if vehicle i is used to deliver the cargo at the last stage, and 0 otherwise. For the second stage, random variables are: (O , D ): the origin and destination position pair of the second cargo. They are both random variables, and distributed on {1, 2, ..., n}; And the decision variables are: yi : binary, and is 1 if vehicle i is used to pick up the cargo at the rst stage, and 0 otherwise; yi : binary, and is 1 if vehicle i is used to deliver the cargo at the last stage, and 0 otherwise. Besides the notation above, there are other details that have to be addressed in the formulation. To facilitate the following discuss and simply the notation, two mappings are dened following. They are about to illustrate the rules of AGVs movement. One is the so called Give way movement, which is dened as follows: F(i,p) : (s1 , s2 , ..., sk ) (t1 , t2 , ..., tk ) Where i is the index of AGV, and p is the destination that the AGV is going to. This function gives the rules that if the origin position vector of AGVs is (s1 , s2 , ..., sk ) , and AGV i is going to position p, then the resulting position vector of AGVs changes to (t1 , t2 , ..., tk ) . Note that AGV i goes to p directly, and other AGVs should give ways to i. And also for some input parameters, the function leads to infeasible output, which means some movements are not allowed. The second mapping is dened as follows. G(i,j,p) : (s1 , s2 , ..., sk ) (t1 , t2 , ..., tk ) Where i denotes the AGV index, which is loading cargo at rst step, j denotes the AGV index, which is supposed to deliver the cargo and move it to the destination at the last step, and p denotes the destination where the cargo is going. This function species the rules that if the original position vector of AGVs are (s1 , s2 , ..., sk ), and AGV i loads the cargo rst and nally, it would transfer it to AGV j directly or indirectly, then the resulting position vector of AGVs is (t1 , t2 , ..., tk ). Note that the transferring of cargo might take several steps, rather than only one. The mappings F(i,p) () and G(i,j,p) () could be specied in the different contexts based on different strategies. We shall study the different impacts of these mappings in the following simulation and experiment sections.

C. Formulation Now we state our stochastic programming model. The objective function is:
k

min Z = |aO
i=1 k

si xi | + |aD aO |
k

+c|
i=1

ixi
i=1

ii | + E(O ,D ) [Q] x

where the rst term is the time of moving from the original position to entry point of the rst cargo, the second term species only the moving time from the entry point to the destination point of the rst cargo by transfers of AGVs (without taking transferring time into consideration), third term imposes the costly transferring time and last term is expectation of the objective function of the second stage. Here Q is as follows:
k k k

Q = min{|O
i=1

ti yi | + |D O | + c|
i=1

iyi
i=1

ii |} y

In the above function, the rst three terms have the similar meaning as those in the rst stage, though they occur in the second stage, and (t1 , t2 , ..., tk ) is the nal position vector of the AGVs at the end of rst stage, and could be obtained by the combination of mappings F and G as follows: G( Pk
i=1

ixi ,

Pk

i=1

ii ,aD ) (F( x

Pk

i=1

ixi ,aO ) (s1 , s2 , ..., sk ))

Further, the constraints are as follows:


k

xi = 1
i=1 k

(1)

xi = 1
i=1 k

(2)

yi = 1
i=1 k

(3)

yi = 1
i=1 k k

(4)

|
i=1 k

ixi
i=1 k

ii | M x

(5)

|
i=1

iyi
i=1

ii | M y

(6) (7)

xi , xi , yi , yi {0, 1}

Where the rst four equations make sure only one vehicle is selected to pick up or deliver the cargo. While, the fth and sixth constraints impose that the number of transfers can not exceed a maximum number, which is required in real

world application because the transfer operation is very timeconsuming. In general, our formulation is a stochastic nonlinear integer mathematical programming. Because of complexity of such kind of problem, the optimal solution is difcult to obtain within a short time so that to get optimization is not operable in the real-world application. As a result, we give four operable strategies and do simulation to do comparison so as to get some useful insight in the following sections. III. M ETHODOLOGY As mentioned that because of complexity of the problem, we decide to solve it by some heuristic methods which is very operable in the real world. The heuristic methods consist of two stages: (1) The rst stage: The AGVs initial positions and the rst cargo are given and we are going to decide which AGV to pick the cargo and which one to deliver it by the following four strategies: Enumeration,zone, Direct-line and Express, which will be introduced later. To simplify the decision, we have made the following assumption for the transfer: whenever a transfer occurs, the middle position of the two AGVs will be used as the place where the transfer takes place. It seems that the middle position usually generates a good solution. Also note that in the zone strategy, the transfer always takes place on the boundary; (2) The second stage: The AGVs positions after the rst deliver is known, and we are going to evaluate how good (or bad) the current situation is by analyzing realization of the second cargo. We have assumed that the cargos are uniformly distributed. After the second cargo is realized, we then decide which AGV to pick the order and which one to deliver it by our strategies. Four strategies, which are mentioned before, are stated respectively as follows: (1) Enumeration Strategy: In this strategy, we are enumerating every possibility of the decisions variables to nd a good decision. As we have mentioned above, the interchange always happens at the middle position of two AGVs. Although this usually produces solutions of high quality, it might not be optimal in some cases. To overcome this, we may need to consider the interchange place as another decision variable in our model later. However, this will dramatically increase the running time of our simulation procedure, which already takes a long time to run. We nd that when the scale of the problem is not large, the enumeration maybe the best policy to nd the optimal solution for the problem. (2) Direct-line Strategy: As the transfer cost is usually very expensive, it only happens in very rare cases. So another simple strategy is not to use transfer at all, which is the direct-line strategy. In this strategy, we always try to use the best AGV to handle the order and we never allow transfer. This proves to be quite effective later in our simulation, because the number of AGV is small and the length of AGV track is not long in our simulation.

(3) Zone Strategy: In this strategy, we divide the whole track into several segments. Only one AGV is in charge of each segment, and its responsible for handling all the delivers on that segment. Whenever an order has arrived, the AGV who is on that segment will pick the order, and the AGV on the destination segment will deliver the order. Whenever a transfer occurs, it always takes place on the boundary. The rational behind this strategy is that we can make sure the positions of the AGVs are balanced after each deliver, so we can avoid some extreme bad situations. However, it may take a longer time for some short distance deliver, which we will see in the simulation results. (4) Express Strategy: To overcome the difculty we have met in the zone strategy and to make use direct-line strategys advantage, we have proposed the following scheme for the express strategy: When an order has arrived, we always use the closest AGV to pick it; If the traveling distance doesnt exceed a specied maximum value, we will only use that AGV to deliver the good, otherwise we will choose the AGV who is in charge of that segment as in the zone strategy. Under this strategy, we can guarantee that the AGVs positions after delivering the rst cargo can be balanceable, which is good for achieving minimum delivery time of the second cargo. This strategy can be considered as the combination of the zone strategy and direct-line strategy. So far, we have proposed four strategies to make decisions for the problem, and we are going to analyze and compare these strategies in our simulation to see how they affect the quality of the solutions and how they can be improved. IV. S IMULATION AND R ESULTS We have done lots of simulation by choosing many different sets of parameters. Here we show the result of the following parameter set: the length of the whole tracks is 15, the number of the AGVs is 3, the maximum deliver distance is 6, and transferring time is 4. We assume it takes AGV one unit time to move one step and have taken consider of every initial position. Because enumeration strategy enumerates through every decision, then wed like to compare the other strategies with it later, which is helpful for us to get some useful insights. Figure 2, gure 3 and gure 4 show these comparisons of Direct-line vs Enumeration, Zone vs Enumeration and Express vs Enumeration respectively, where the x-axis is the case index and the y-axis is the difference of corresponding objective functions. First, we nd that the enumeration strategy is the best among them, and the reason is that the scale of our instance is small so that the enumeration strategy is possible to go through all solutions and nd the best one. Secondly, we can see that direct-line strategy performs better than zone strategy and express strategy, that is not only because it has no transfer cost incurred,but also because the number of AGV is small and the length of AGV track is not long in our simulation, so that the balanceable positions of AGVs is not so important. Thirdly, for the zone strategy, we realized that

enumeration strategy may not be optimal in some cases. As zone strategy proves to be better in 1.4% situations. The reason is that they transfer cargos in different way. Enumeration strategy adopts middle position between two adjoining AGVs to transfer cargos, but for zone strategy, transfer only happens on the boundary of two adjoining zone. However, we also have discovered some examples that the zone strategy will perform very bad when we did other simulation. Figure 5 shows us an example that the zone strategy performs very bad. In this scenario, we are going to transport the cargo from position 4 to position 5 just across the border. If we choose to the zone policy, we will have to wait for the second AGV to go a long way to start the transfer on the boundary, which is very slow. Alternatively, we can have the rst AGV to pick and go directly to the destination, which is much faster. Finally, the simulation results may vary greatly from the different sets of parameters. For example, although express strategy is regarded as the combination of the zone strategy and direct-line strategy, it is not so good as either of them, because the setting of the parameter of maximum delivery distance is not proper in this instance. We nd that good performance can be obtained by choosing proper parameters. Although for this small scale problem, we may prefer to use the enumeration strategy to nd near optimal solutions. However, it may easily run out of time when problems scale becomes larger as it enumerates through every possibility. From the results of other different setting of parameters, we nd that our strategies are good for operation and need less time to get good solutions in realworld application in general.

Fig. 3.

Zone vs Enumeration

Fig. 4.

Express vs Enumeration

Fig. 2.

Direct-line vs Enumeration

V. C ONCLUSION Automated guided vehicles are widely used in manufacturing and transporting facilities for the movement of material from one location to another. In this paper, we introduce a two-stage stochastic programming model for designing a multiple-vehicle automatic guided vehicle system. Because the problem is too complex to solve within a short time, we develop heuristic methods to solve it, which are operable in the real-world application. And those strategies adopted by our heuristic methods are enumeration strategy, direct-line

strategy, zone strategy and express strategy. The simulation results show that: For small scale problems, the enumeration strategy is best among all the strategies to nd near optimal solutions; However, it may easily run out of time when problems scale becomes larger as it enumerates through every possibility. From the result comparison of zone strategy and enumeration strategy, we nd that we can improve the solution by taking the exchange position as the decision variables. Although the actual parameter affects the results greatly, we have still got several examples from the simulation to gain insight of the design of AGV transport policy, which we think its very valuable for the design. We can run the simulation each time before we deploy a new policy, so we can estimate how good (or bad) it may perform in the real world and how we can improve the situation. The advantage of our strategies is that they are very easy to implement, and helpful to design AGV transport policy in real-world applications. In future research, we suggest several research directions as follows: (1) to consider the number of AGVs as a decision variable; (2) to set nite buffers in some xed points along the track; (3) to adopt another kind of AGV layout, instead of straight-line layout; (4) to take multiple-load capacity AGV into consideration.

Fig. 5.

Example 1

ACKNOWLEDGMENT The author Dr. Zhaowei Miao would like to thank the support by Humanities and Social Science Project Research on Green Logistics System Design and Optimization Strategies with Project No. 07JC630047, National Ministry of Education, China; The author Prof. Guojun Ji would like to thank the support by New Century Outstanding Talent Plan in Fujian; And the author Prof. Fan Wang would like to thank the support by National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) under Project No. 60704048. R EFERENCES [1] Akturk,M. S. and Yilmaz, H., 1996, Scheduling of automated guided vehicles in a decision making hierarchy. International Journal of Production Research, 32, 577-591. [2] Bartholdi, J. J. and Platzman, L. K., 1989, Decentralized control of automated guided vehicles on a simple loop. IIE Transactions, 21, 76-81. [3] Bozer, Y. A. and Park, J. H., 1992, New partitioning schemes for tandem AGV systems. In Proceedings of the 1992 International Material Handling Colloquium, Milwaukee, WI. [4] Bozer, Y. A. and Srinivasan, M. M., 1991, Tandem congurations for automated guided vehicles systems and the analysis of single-vehicle loops. IIE Transactions, 23, 7282. [5] Daniels, S. C., 1988, Real-time conict resolution in automated guided vehicle scheduling. PhD thesis, Department of Industrial Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, USA. [6] Evers, J. J. M. and Koppers, S. A. J., 1996, Automatic guided vehicle trafc control at a container terminal. Transportation Research Part A, 30, 21-34. [7] Kim, K. H. and Bae, J. W., 1999, Dispatching automated guided vehicles for multiple container-cranes. In Seminar on Port Design and Operations Technology, Pan Pacic Hotel, Singapore, 4-5 November. [8] Nayyar, P. and S. K. Khator. 1993. Operational Control of Multiple-Load Vehicles in an Automated Guided Vehicle System, Computers and I.E. 25, 503-560. [9] Occena, L. G. and T. Yokota. 1993. Analysis of the AGV

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