A company that is interested in using AMRs and wants the proof-of-concept before making large scale investments in them or getting low cost entry to robotic automation can work with suppliers that offer AMRs on Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) or on lease basis
An autonomous mobile robot (AMR) is a mobile platform with or without an attachment or a manipulator that can move in the specified operating area autonomously. With the help of various embedded sensors, software, and computing capabilities, AMRs have the ability to understand their surrounding environments and navigate their way without the help of humans by detecting obstacles and adjusting their path by computing an obstacle-free and optimal path through free space rather than a predefined path.
Warehouses, distribution centres, and such facilities (these terms are used interchangeably) have started uncovering opportunities to use the AMRs to execute various tasks that are low skilled & hazardous and often performed by unwilling workers. The need to automate warehouse tasks with the help of robots and bring about operational transformation was always there, but its fulfilment had to wait for the arrival of robots with autonomous mobility abilities. Now that has happened, the warehouses and other such facilities are rushing to invest in AMRs. This pent up demand for robots, which can move autonomously without causing harm to the people working in the same area, is spurring the growth of the AMR market. This trend is further aided by the growth of the e-commerce business and the unfortunate spread and prevalence of the pandemic caused by COVID – 19 across the world. Suppliers are also doing their bit to attract users to adopt AMRs. Some of them are offering AMRs on a pay-as-you-use or lease basis. A company that is interested in using AMRs and wants the proof-of-concept before making large scale investments in them or getting low-cost entry to robotic automation can work with suppliers that offer AMRs on Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) or on lease basis. Thereby, companies can avoid incurring capital expenditure and regular maintenance expenses.
Companies, especially those which are in e-commerce, logistics, & retailing business and operate large warehouses/distribution centres, can deploy AMRs to automate many of their warehouse operations, such as receiving / unloading, picking & stacking, storing, packing, dispatching/loading on to trucks or wagons, inventory management etc. While the AMRs’ platforms provide the needed mobility, their attachments or manipulators perform the desired tasks. Companies can achieve efficiency and productivity improvements, which will result in enhancing their profitability and competitiveness, through transformative improvements such as the following:
- – Quality of work improves – Many of the operations performed in warehouses are routine in nature. People get tired of performing such routine and repetitive tasks, but AMRs are exceedingly good at executing them. While people get bored at doing such jobs and commit errors, robots do not and as a consequence, the quality of work done improves.
- – Operations become efficient – When robots are used to perform routine chores, the relieved workers will get opportunities to focus on doing jobs they are good at, because of their ability to be creative and intuitive. Making AMRs work alongside humans in a collaborative manner enables the warehouses and distribution centres to leverage the abilities of both humans and AMRs to the full. The use of AMRs improves the efficiency of operations in such facilities.
- – Alleviates labour shortage challenges – Traditionally most of the tasks in warehouses perforce are done by manual workers. The laborious and arduous nature of the work involved discourages workers from signing up for these jobs and this trend is not likely to change in the near future. Published sources indicate that workers in the e-commerce warehouses in a shift walk more than 9 miles or spend many hours packing orders standing in one place. These sources also point out that the US Department of Labor numbers suggest that there are now multiple warehouse jobs per applicant. Not only will the use of AMRs alleviate the labour shortage challenges faced by warehouses, but also significantly reduce the labour costs
- – Improves inventory management – Owner-operators of warehouses need to track stock/inventory levels closely so that they can, on one hand, know what has been sold & what is available and, on the other, take actions to ensure the physical availability of goods for timely order fulfilment. The traditional manual process can be dispensed with and AMRs used instead. AMRs. fitted with ultrahigh-frequency radio frequency identification (UHF RFID) modules, can greatly improve the efficiency and correctness of the inventory taken in comparison to the manual method.
- – Reduces order processing time and improves order fulfilment process – AMRs help owner-operators of warehouses and other facilities to improve profitability, gain competitiveness, and scale-up goods handling capacity by making their operations more efficient & productive. They help reduce the order processing time and improve the order fulfilment process
- – Facilitates integration of information and the single source of truth – Because of the digital capabilities of AMRs, they can share information with other information technology systems, such as warehouse management systems (WMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), supplier relation management (SRM), and customer relation management (CRM). As a consequence, integration of information is achieved that improves the decision-making process.
- – Improves efficiency of warehouse processes – When AMRs are linked to a company’s IT solutions, such as warehouse management systems (WMS), enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution system (MES) or others, they can improve the efficiency of the warehouse processes.
- – Helps handle COVID – 19 related challenges – AMRs can also play important roles in alleviating the challenges arising out of the current pandemic caused by COVID – 19. Preventing the rapid spread of the disease necessitates disinfecting the premises periodically and minimizing the need for people to assemble together. AMRs can play useful roles in this regard.
- – Improves productivity and throughput – AMRs, after they are commissioned and start working properly, execute the assigned jobs consistently, speedily, and in an error-free manner compared to workers. As a consequence, the productivity & throughput improves and operational costs go down.
- – Ensures workplace safety – Ensuring workplace safety is important. The safer the employees are at work, the more productive they become, and this results in a win-win situation for both the employers and the employees. AMRs are designed and engineered to ensure that they do not collide with obstacles or cause injury to the people in whose midst they are required to work.
The use of AMRs can transform warehouse operations and make them more efficient and productive. As a consequence of the transformation improvements achieved by deploying AMRs, owner-operators will achieve higher profits, cost reductions, better inventory management, order fulfilment, and enhanced workplace safety.
Senior Advisor, Quadrant Knowledge Solutions