Mecfor of Saguenay in Quebec, yesterday unveiled one of its most innovative projects to date: the first automated guided vehicle (AGV) designed and made in North America and destined specifically for the worldwide primary aluminium industry.
The vehicle can manoeuvre completely autonomously within complex and harsh environments, such as strong magnetic fields, dust, wide temperature variations and constant interactions with workers and other equipment.
The AGV prototype is designed to carry crucibles of molten metal weighing up to 34 tonnes, but can also be used to transport various loads. The vehicle is electrically driven which helps to reduce the industry’s ecological footprint and offer environmentally responsible ingots. The guidance and safety components were chosen after months of testing under real conditions in order to assess their impact on the different machines. The AGV possesses non-contact sensors mounted on the front and on the rear of the frame. These sensors replicate a virtual bumper ensuring that the AGV makes a controlled stop before coming in contact with any obstacle.
"Our clients want green technologies"
The development and innovation behind the prototype are taking automated vehicles to a new level, rethinking not only the way the vehicles manoeuvre but also how operations are conducted inside aluminium plants. “The industry is ready for this new approach to logistics and transport,” said Éloise Harvey, president of Mecfor. “Our clients want this kind of innovation; they want to work with green technologies.”
To develop the project, Mecfor collaborated with Amerden, a supplier in the US with special expertise in automated guidance technology. For the electric propulsion and batteries, the team also worked with the Innovative Vehicle Institute in Saint-Jerome, Quebec. The Quebec government has financially supported the AGV development with USD520,000.
“With this technological investment, Mecfor is positioning itself for the aluminium refinery of the future while opening the door to other, similar equipment tailored for different industries in which operations are conducted in hostile environments,” said Harvey.