VALIO: AGVs and humans coexist peacefully at the plant making legendary cheese

Valio is the leading dairy product manufacturer in Finland, and the Haapavesi plant processes and packs one of Scandinavia’s favourite cheese brands Oltermanni. Inside this factory in northern Finland there is something a little bit special. It lives and sleeps on the warehouse floor, weighs four and a quarter tonnes and has a top speed of 7 kilometres an hour. It has a name but the staff here know it simply as Number 1.

Rocla AGV at Valio Haapavesi

Number 1 is an automated guided vehicle (AGV) designed and manufactured by Rocla, which has been developing AGVs for more than 30 years. The key feature is that Number 1, along with its factory partner, Number 2, has no human operator.

Instead, it is packed with the very latest navigation and sensor technology. The AGV receives its instructions by Wi-Fi and carries them out using a rotating laser which bounces off a series of discreetly placed reflective strips. The unit can calibrate its exact position to within a centimetre. And it is safe. Sensors at both ends, in the side rails, above the AGV and in the forks themselves means that if anything comes too close, it stops.

These AGVs have been customized with the Oltermanni branding and have quickly become part of the team.

“Of course, forklift drivers are true professionals. But these guys, AGVs, they don’t have bad days,” Jarno Pajula, Valio’s planning manager of warehouse logistics, says.

By replacing manual operators the amount of damage to vehicles, stock and site has reduced by 90%. The number of forklift operators Valio employs on this site has fallen from 8 to 4 and manual shifts have fallen from 3 to 2. These AGVs can run unattended through the night.

Crucially these machines don’t require track installation or wholesale changes to the existing design of a warehouse. The AGVs know their jobs and get on with them and when they are running low on power they automatically roll themselves onto floor-mounted charging contacts.

The AGVs are moving around in areas where there are also manual forklifts and people, and they get along with everybody.

“People are often afraid of new things but nowadays everybody says they wouldn’t give them away”, Marko Palosaari, Valio Haapavesi plant manager, concludes.

Rocla AGVs are part of the team at Valio cheese factory