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Robots bring Ramstein warehouse into 21st century

A member of the 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron material management flight charges an automated guided vehicle  June 17, 2010, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Members of the 86th LRS material management flight are the first to use these AGVs in the United States Air Forces in Europe Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)

A member of the 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron material management flight charges an automated guided vehicle June 17, 2010, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Members of the 86th LRS material management flight are the first to use these AGVs in the United States Air Forces in Europe Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)

An automated guided vehicle parks in its charging location according to an operator's command during a showcase of the new equipment June 17, 2010, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Members of the 86th LRS material management flight are the first to use these AGVs in the United States Air Forces in Europe Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)

An automated guided vehicle parks in its charging location according to an operator's command during a showcase of the new equipment June 17, 2010, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Members of the 86th LRS material management flight are the first to use these AGVs in the United States Air Forces in Europe Command. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)

Eduard Junko connects a water hose to an automated guided vehicle during a showcase of the new equipment June 17, 2010, at  Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Members of the 86th LRS material management flight are the first to use these AGVs in the United States Air Forces in Europe Command. Mr. Junko is the material management flight chief of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)

Eduard Junko connects a water hose to an automated guided vehicle during a showcase of the new equipment June 17, 2010, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Members of the 86th LRS material management flight are the first to use these AGVs in the United States Air Forces in Europe Command. Mr. Junko is the material management flight chief of operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- Air Force officials have replaced a conveyor belt system in the 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron warehouse with the United States Air Forces in Europe Command first laser automated guided vehicle system, saving time and money.

Today, according to Larry Head, that conveyor system has been replaced by the Air Force's first of its kind laser Automated Guided Vehicle System.

Five, E & K Automation, robotic vehicles are now patrolling up and down the warehouse stopping at designated points, picking up parcels and moving them to designated locations more than a quarter mile away before dropping them off and moving to the next location.

"The key to this system is flexibility," said Larry Head, an Air Force Materials Handling Engineering Flight industrial engineer. "Because it is laser guided, we can change the vehicles paths or add other vehicles at a later date if mission increases require it."

Although the new system cost $5,000 annually to maintain the AGVs, it drastically reduces the cost of maintaining the 9-year-old conveyors from $40,000 each year.

"In addition to saving the Air Force money, the new vehicles are a quality-of-life improvement," said 2nd Lt. Amanda Callister, the 86th LRS materiel flight manager.

"The old conveyor system was very loud," said Eduard Junko, 86th LRS chief of operations.

Achieving such Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century goals like reducing maintenance cost and noise while increasing efficiency, the new AGVs have also freed existing manpower to help in other areas throughout the warehouse.

"Now technicians who had to move items from a drop location to the conveyors or drive forklifts can be freed up to pull parts or process shipping documents," Mr. Junko said.

Each of the five laser-guided vehicles are capable of working 30 hours on a fully charged battery. Once the battery reaches a low level the vehicle returns to charging locations at the end of the warehouse.

Although Airmen still use forklifts for some loads, the AGVs have already made an impact in the facility, and there are other capabilities that have not been explored yet.

"I have been designing these systems for 25 years, but this is the first time I have recommended this AGV system for a unit," Mr. Head said. "Although the warehouse is old, it is large enough that we can fully explore the capabilities of the laser guided vehicle. It simply works perfectly."

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