Despite their reputation as ultra-modern automation tools, robots have been used in industrial settings since the 1960s. In terms of warehouses, distribution centers, and logistical companies, early robots called Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs) were used to transport materials.
But while AGVs improved operational efficiency and relieved workers of heavy-lifting tasks, they were far from perfect. They could only move on predefined paths marked out on the floor and were unable to navigate even the simplest of obstacles. That meant they often needed operator supervision, limiting their potential as warehouse automation solutions.
As consumer demand continued to grow exponentially into the 21st century, logistical companies needed superior robotics to stay competitive in an overburdened market. These machines had to be truly autonomous, able to achieve peak speed and productivity without sacrificing precision. And with the introduction of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) that’s exactly what they got.
What are autonomous mobile robots?
An AMR is an automated machine that uses sensors, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to interpret its surroundings and independently plan a route through its environment. They don’t require additional navigation hardware such as tape, wires, or QR codes, and they can go around obstacles like crowds of people or fallen boxes to complete their tasks. This advanced navigation technology is called Simultaneous Location and Mapping, also known as SLAM.
While AMRs still need a human in the loop to offer a helping hand when they encounter a problem, they can largely be left alone to perform a wide variety of warehouse automation tasks. This includes:
- Inventory management
- Order fulfillment
- Parcel sortation
- Picking and packing
- Returns handling
Benefits of autonomous mobile robots
Improved efficiency and productivity
The ability to quickly and precisely perform strenuous tasks throughout the day and night without losing focus or stopping to rest is the single greatest benefit of AMRs. Tasks such as picking and placing can be performed consistently and at speed within narrow tolerances while keeping downtime to a minimum. That means warehouses and distribution centers can accurately fulfill a much higher number of orders without investing in additional human staff.
But this pick and place automation isn’t the only way AMRs streamline and grow your operation. That’s because using robots to perform repetitive manual tasks also frees up human capital for high-value creative, intellectual, or complex tasks that AMRs can’t handle.
Similarly, robotics automation allows you to place a greater focus on secondary business activities such as customer support. By offering superior service, not just superior numbers, you’re able to develop an industry reputation that attracts more customers and clients. This combination of higher productivity and greater demand can skyrocket the income of a logistical company without risky investments or excessive delays in ROI.
Enhanced worker safety
The logistics industry involves a great deal of heavy-duty manual labor that can lead to injury when performed incorrectly or for too long. And when your workers take time off to recover, your productivity drops. While you could relieve the strain with vehicles such as forklifts, human fatigue or distraction can still lead to accidents.
Allowing AMRs to perform these intense physical tasks moves your workers away from environments that threaten their health and safety. These machines not only have a greater carrying capacity that doesn’t fade as they get tired, but any rare incidents that do occur no longer pose a risk to human life. This helps you keep your workforce in top condition and avoid costly lawsuits that arise from workplace injuries.
When operators decide to repurpose an AGV to perform a different task, they also need to install new navigation hardware to show the robot where to go. But since AMRs navigate using SLAM, reprogramming them is a relatively quick and simple procedure. This means your fleet can be adapted to suit your needs over time, allowing you to keep up with changing market demands.
Despite this flexibility, many operators also worry about the lead time required to implement AMRs in the first place. However, it’s realistically possible to deploy AMRs within warehouses and distribution centers in only four-to-six weeks. That includes integrating them with your pick and place automation software. This quick setup and high flexibility make AMRs a versatile addition to any logistics operation.
Since AMRs are quick to purchase and program, it’s easy to follow a modular deployment system in your facility. Simply start with a few units and add more as your operation continues to grow. Once you’ve implemented your first AMRs, further units can reuse the existing programming adapted to their particular role.
This ability to build your robotic workforce steadily means you don’t need to invest a huge amount of funds at once. Instead, your money can drive other initiatives while you analyze and evaluate the value of AMRs to your business, removing the risk of trialing new warehouse automation solutions.
If you have multiple facilities, it’s also easy to move AMRs between them without implementing a new automation infrastructure each time. This makes AMRs an effective solution for temporary holiday operations, allowing your facility to handle an abnormal jump in demand with ease.
Robot-to-Robot Collaboration with AMRs
Introducing AMRs to your warehouse or distribution center is a low-risk way to improve productivity, flexibility, and worker safety without drastically changing your operation. But unlocking the true value of AMRs relies on collaboration with other forms of automation.
Our award-winning 3D- and AI-powered PickOne vision software for robot arms is the fastest on the market for accurately picking and placing packages onto AMRs. By shortening the time required to load your AMRs while keeping errors to a minimum, you can take your facility’s productivity to the next level. What’s more, PickOne’s machine learning algorithms allow it to recognize new package shapes and become even more precise over time, giving you exponentially greater results.
Visit our website today to discover how our robotics software products let you achieve peak operational performance with outstanding AMRs.