Automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are drastically underperforming for the US Postal Service (USPS), an internal USPS audit revealed.
As noted in FreightWaves, the audit by the USPS’s Office of Inspector General showed that the 350 AGVs purchased and deployed between Oct. 2019 and Apr. 2022 were “severely underutilized” in postal service facilities.
Of the 350 AGVs deployed at USPS sites, 46% were used less than once per day on average in 2022. Notably, 24% of the AGVs didn't complete a single mission in 2022.
Failure to Meet Performance Goals
The audit noted the drastic financial impact of the underperforming AGVs: a $105 million shortfall in labor savings anticipated from adopting the technology. This was one of several goals the AGV deployment failed to achieve.
By deploying AGVs, the Postal Service expected to reduce mail handling hours and introduce automation to mail handling operations. But instead the audit uncovered how the AGVs consistently came up far short of their performance goals, missing their KPIs at failure rates as high as 95%.
- In 2020, 95% of the 281 deployed AGVs failed to meet their performance goal of operating for 40 hours per week
- In 2021, 93% of the 368 deployed AGVs failed to meet these goals
Year over year performance improvement gains were minimal. Even after the Postal Service changed the performance metrics in January 2022, no postal facility consistently met its goals.
- In 2022, only two of 26 facilities even met their weekly goals: one for a total of three weeks, the other for nine weeks
- In 2023, only one of 24 facilities met average weekly performance goals
The Postal Service didn’t use all the AGVs as intended, and didn’t increase the number of completed missions even after deploying more AGVs.
Limited Training & Ambiguous Use Cases
A common theme through the audit? A lack of understanding among USPS personnel about how to utilize the AGVs. The Postal Service didn’t know how to optimize their vehicles—or in some facilities, even where to start.
Auditors discovered AGVs covered in plastic wrap at one mail processing facility, and sitting uncharged in a closed wing at another site. In one facility, the AGVs were found being used to block off floor space instead of moving mail.
Common issues inhibiting AGV performance at post office facilities included:
- Lack of trained or knowledgeable personnel
- Inability for the AGVs to change routes or pick-up and drop-off points in response to changing workplace conditions
- Vehicle difficulty in navigating narrow or cluttered aisles
- Unclear understanding of how to measure the accuracy of maintenance system records
- Reduced efficiency in operating in congested areas
- Lack of management support
- Low support from craft personnel
Increases in package volume and related changes to equipment and building layouts led to more AGV usage challenges, postal service management said in response to the audit.
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