The increased adoption of automated vehicles for material handling has triggered escalating demand for self-driving technology that is on track to continue through 2018, one vendor says.
The trend is driven by the effort of manufacturing and distribution facilities to seek improvements in efficiency, safety, and profitability, according to the report from Seegrid Corp., a supplier of vision-guided vehicles and self-driving pallet trucks.
Pittsburgh-based Seegrid has been adding jobs, expanding its engineering and deployment departments, and expanding geographically into Canada and Europe over the past year, thanks to rising demand and a $12 million investment in 2016 by its majority shareholder, the regional grocery chain Giant Eagle.
Demand for autonomous lift trucks in 2017 came from new customers who are adopting automation, and from expanded orders by existing users in the automotive, e-commerce, and distribution sectors, the firm said.
Orders for self-driving vehicles will continue to be a priority capital investment for manufacturing and distribution leaders in 2018, as the technology becomes recognized as a best practice and large enterprise users increase their adoption rates in pursuit of improved workflow efficiency, Seegrid said.
"Manufacturing and e-commerce companies are under pressure to modernize their operations and transform their facilities into the smart factories of the future," Seegrid CEO Jim Rock said in a statement.
The report follows a study released in June 2017 by Oxford Economics that found the industrial truck industry—which includes automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and other automated truck technologies as well as traditional, driver-operated forklifts—had made a total contribution to the U.S. economy in 2015 of $25.7 billion.
The report was commissioned by the Industrial Truck Association (ITA), an industry group including manufacturers of lift trucks, tow tractors, rough-terrain vehicles, hand-pallet trucks, and automated guided vehicles. The overall contribution of those vehicles to the economy includes equipment manufacturing as well as support services such as sales, leasing, and rental operations; distribution and logistics; and training, maintenance, and repair services, ITA said.