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Autonomous Mobile Robots in the Order Fulfillment Centers– Ideation to Implementation

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Autonomous Mobile Robots in the Order Fulfillment Centers – Ideation to Implementation

The idea that the deployment of AMRs will improve the operational efficiencies, safety, and responsiveness of distribution and order fulfillment centers that have become strategic assets for many businesses, is realized by putting the same into practice

The owner-operators of warehouses and distribution centres, especially those that are managed by the e-commerce companies, driven by the need to improve the operational efficiencies, safety, and responsiveness of their storage facilities, are turning to autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) for achieving those objectives. Their interest in the use of AMRs is driven by the fact that AMRs can

  • – move things around in an efficient, cost-effective, and collaborative manner without being aided by humans
  • – fitted with robotic arms, accomplish various tasks, such as receiving, sorting, packing, and dispatching of a variety of goods
  • – and collaboratively work with workers in performing various tasks without undermining the safety of the personnel
  • AMRs use sophisticated sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computational power to interpret their surroundings, navigate their way without colliding with obstacles that may be found on their path, and perform the assigned tasks. They are capable of even slowing down, stopping, or rerouting their path should the need arise and surroundings demand.
  •  
  • Business compulsions trigger ideation

Increasing compulsions to automate and growing awareness about the benefits of automating warehouse operations are spurring e-commerce and other businesses to take project initiatives to deploy AMRs in their facilities. Evaluating the available options and taking decisions that will ensure the success of the AMR project may prove to be overwhelming for the decision-makers operating warehouses. While compulsions trigger the ideation, the project’s success ultimately depends on how well the concept is converted into reality. Like any other project. successful implementation would call for proper planning, setting up of the project team and its competencies, budget allocation, preparation of the request for proposal document based on which the procurement process will be initiated, etc. AMR project-specific requisites include identifying the tasks, with the help of AMRs can be performed more efficiently, shortlisting the tasks that have a clear business case, prioritizing them for implementation, configuring & customizing the system to meet the specific applications, programming, incorporating cyber security measures, etc.

Roadmap to successful implementation
The important points to be taken into consideration while developing the implementation action plan for executing the AMR project are as follows:

  • – Set clear business objectives

Setting the objectives and pursuing them provide the company, which wants to improve its responsiveness to the customer demands and operational efficiencies, with the necessary focus, direction, and purpose. It is, therefore, necessary for the company’s AMR project team to identify in the project report the business objectives to be achieved apart from providing the timeline, cost estimates & human resources required. The objectives must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely – the SMART objectives.  

  • – Engage implementation partners

Successful implementation of an AMR project involves a significant amount of project management & engineering efforts that include the software programming & customization to meet the specific applications, and site layouts, such as route planning & facility mapping, commissioning, and preparation of the as-commissioned document.  It will be necessary for companies to appoint a recognized implementation partner who not only has the technical knowledge about AMRs and project management capabilities but also has the necessary skills to maximize the benefits from the investments and extract the full value through proper application engineering

  • – Start small

While executing a project, encountering imponderables is not uncommon. In order to minimize their negative consequences, it is desirable for the company that is planning the first-time investments in AMRs to start with the easier-to-achieve and measurable applications, gain experience and confidence, revalidate the return on investment (ROI) assumptions, and expand to other applications. It will be a good to start with a test pilot initiative, often referred to as lighthouse project. The pilot project approach gives the company an opportunity to validate the project’s investment and return-on-investment assumptions and establish the proof of concept. It provides the necessary means to the company to experiment with concepts, obtain real-time feedback about the effectiveness of its strategic initiatives, learn from experience, and take corrective actions.

  • – Prepare the request for proposal document

The request for proposal (RFP) document is to be prepared by the implementation partner in consultation with the AMR project team. The RFP document must describe the AMR specifications and the expected outcome. The document’s aim must be to conclude a performance-based contract.  This approach incentivizes the suppliers to offer AMRs not as products but as solutions with the associated services. Performance based contract ensures realizing the expected benefits and lessens the customer’s uncertainties about the outcomes.

  • – Initiate the selection, procurement, and the implementation process

Identify potential suppliers, elicit proposals, shortlist, carry out due diligence, and move forward with the implementation process.

  • – During the selection process ensure that the suppliers
    •          — have incorporated the safety and cyber security features in their AMRs and that they conform to applicable standards
    •          — will provide software updates and hardware fixes
  • – Consider the pros and cons of Robotics-as-a-Service

Many suppliers are offering their AMRs on Robotics – as – a – Service (RaaS) or lease basis. A company, which wants proof-of-concept or seek a low-cost-entry to robotic automation, may find the RaaS proposition interesting. By opting in favor of RaaS / lease basis, the company can avoid incurring the capital expenditure and maintenance expenses. While leasing / Robotics – as – a – Service has benefits, such as preserving cash and avoiding the hassle of maintenance demands, it has long-term cost implications, which must also be taken into consideration.

  • – Involve workers

Improving the efficiency of warehouse operations and relieving workers of having to perform unproductive activities and mundane and repetitive tasks are the reasons behind the idea of warehouse automation. The objective is best achieved by getting the workers involved with the project initiatives, especially those who will be working alongside the AMRs. That will help in making the workers aware of the reasons for initiating the AMR project and the benefits of the use of AMRs.  Securing the workers’ support is a prerequisite to ensure the ultimate success of the project. 

Everything begins with an idea, so goes the saying; so too is the idea of automating the order fulfillment centers with the help of AMRs. The idea that the deployment of AMRs will improve the operational efficiencies, safety, and responsiveness of distribution and order fulfillment centers that have become strategic assets for many businesses, is realized by putting the same into practice. The proof of the pudding is in the eating!

Author

A.V. Rajabahadur

Senior Advisor- Quadrant Knowledge Solutions