CLEMSON — The vehicles need to zip around the manufacturing floor on their own, delivering parts to workers for hours at a time while avoiding any hazards that may be ahead.

“Their archenemies are forklifts,” said Ethan Kung, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Clemson University.

Seniors in a mechanical engineering class work on their "automated guided vehicle." From left, they are Andrew Johnston of Indianapolis, Andrew Spencer of Greenville and Paul Black of Easley.

Seniors in a mechanical engineering class work on their “automated guided vehicle.” From left, they are Andrew Johnston of Indianapolis, Andrew Spencer of Greenville and Paul Black of Easley.

Kung and two other course advisers, Kalyan Katuri and Qing Mao, are overseeing three teams of students who will gather Thursday to unveil the “automated guided vehicles” they have developed as part of a class project sponsored by a local manufacturing company.

The company asked the students to design low-cost automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that could transport carts filled with parts.

Each automated guided vehicle would slide underneath a stationary push cart and engage it by extending a catch pin. The vehicle would deliver the cart, retract the pin and move on to its next job.

Vehicles would follow magnetic strips installed in the floor. Command tape alongside the path would tell the vehicle what is coming so that it can speed up on straightaways, slow down for turns and look for hazards at intersections.

Students are using infrared and ultrasonic sensors to give their vehicles the eyes and ears they need to watch out for obstacles in their path. Vehicles will also come equipped with warning lights and sounds.

It’s a one-semester project. In three months, each team has designed and built its own automated guided vehicle from scratch.

“It’s really cool to have nothing at the beginning of the semester and then have this somewhat complicated prototype at the end,” Kung said. “It’s almost like a little creature that you can play with.

“It’s pretty amazing that four students are able to accomplish this much work in this short amount of time.”

Vehicles must follow a guide path of magnetic cable or tape; operate under regular shop floor noise; move a train of four carts; run for 10-12 hour shifts with an opportunity to charge during downtime; incorporate a mechanism to grab carts full of parts; and incorporate safety features, including the ability to stop for obstacles.

All the students involved are seniors who are enrolled in Mechanical Engineering 4020. Two teams have four members, and one team has five members.

The teams will demonstrate their vehicles from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Thursday in the atrium of the Fluor Daniel Engineering Innovation Building.

One team could also do a demonstration for members of the media at 1:30 p.m.

Both demonstrations are open to the public.

In two weeks, students will demonstrate their vehicles for the company. They plan to submit the design details and the working prototypes to the company so that it will have the option of fine-tuning them to its needs.

“This is an exemplary project,” said Melur K. “Ram” Ramasubramanian, chair of the mechanical engineering department. “Students had to meet deadlines, follow specifications and stay under budget. It prepares them for the 21st-century workforce.”

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