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Robo tech

Continuous Improvement helps promote AGVs

Becky Jo Benson, a custodian at the Sacramento, CA, Processing and Distribution Center, and Danny Rayos, the facility’s lead maintenance manager, share a moment with one of the automated guided vehicles.

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are so effective at improving Postal Service plant operations that one employee is singing their praises. Literally.

Becky Jo Benson, a custodian at the Sacramento, CA, Processing and Distribution Center, wrote a song — “We’re All Charged Up” — about the robotic helpers and, with banjo in hand, performed it for her co-workers.

We’re all charged up for you
Ready to work by your side
Our feeling is postal blue
We share your postal pride.

Benson, who was a recording artist and member of the New Christy Minstrels folk music group for 22 years before joining USPS, enjoys working alongside the AGVs.

“If something is in the way, it’ll ‘beep, beep, beep’ and I’ll say, ‘Sorry, Number Nine’ and move the obstacle out of the way and say, ‘OK, you can go now,’” Benson said with a laugh. “It responds, ‘Beep, beep’ and I’ll say, ‘You’re welcome.’”

Benson isn’t the only AGV fan. Employees at other plants have created everything from AGV training videos to movie-style posters. A few have even dressed up like AGVs to promote the value of the vehicles.

It’s all part of an effort by Continuous Improvement to help USPS fully integrate AGVs into postal plants.

“They’re here to assist employees, so we wanted to promote their usage and spark some engagement around them,” said Aaron Strouse, a continuous improvement specialist based at Postal Service headquarters in Washington, DC.

Equipped with technology that allows them to operate autonomously, AGVs are programmed to sense their surroundings and avoid obstacles as they navigate around a plant floor, reading barcodes, to perform repetitive tasks such as mail movement or moving equipment.

“We use them for everything, like dispatching mail transport equipment. We get information from operations to find out how they would like to use them and adapt around that,” said Dylan Muller, an operations industrial engineering trainee at the Sacramento plant.

There are approximately 300 AGVs deployed in Sacramento; Portland, OR; Nashville, TN; and 23 other plants across the nation.

AGVs are in line with Delivering for America, the Postal Service’s 10-year plan to modernize the organization.

“People are skeptical of AGVs. Some think they are taking our jobs,” said Benson, who feels the robots, like her buddy, Number Nine, instead support job advancement.

“A whole lot of people at the plant have been made regular employees because the robots are doing the repetitious work we don’t have to do,” she said. “AGVs don’t take our jobs. They make more jobs.”

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