Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) have been making waves in the warehousing and distribution world for a few years now. A flexible automation solution, autonomous robots provide an important bridge between operational staff, their existing equipment and the data systems already in place.
As warehouse operations continue to evolve, integrating automated robots paves the way for faster order fulfillment and heightened efficiency. Let’s take a look at eight key ways automated robots are changing the face of warehousing.
1. Flexibility and optimized resource management
The need to adjust your warehouse’s capabilities to accommodate fluctuating demand is a common challenge in today’s fulfillment landscape. The use of traditional tactics like changing warehouse layouts and the use of alternate shifts may provide flexibility in certain situations, but they can be difficult and costly to coordinate. Automated robots, however, can be retrofitted into any existing warehouse layout or design without the need for major changes to racking, bolts, or shuttles.
Some companies, such as 6 River Systems, offer flexible rental pricing structures, enabling warehouse operators to rent additional capacity during peak and return units when demand returns to normal. This acts as a very streamlined resource management option, limiting capital purchases to what’s needed now.
2. Equipment scalability
In addition to resource flexibility within the warehouse, AMRs have also demonstrated some clear and positive impacts on scalability. Warehouse automation equipment such as conveyors and sortation systems are typically static and part of the costly, fixed infrastructure of the warehouse. If investments are made to increase this infrastructure capacity or speed to accommodate peaks, these resources will not be fully utilized during normal demand periods.
On the other side of the coin are AMRs, which can be rented, transferred among facilities and/or brought online quickly to adapt to changing needs, providing the scalability needed in the modern warehousing world.
3. Improved warehouse productivity
Staffing at warehouses has become increasingly challenging as the demand for qualified warehouse workers continues to rise. In warehouses that have implemented autonomous mobile robots, there have been a number of reported benefits, such as 2 to 3x increases in productivity, fewer errors and greater employee satisfaction. These improvements have enabled warehouses with AMRs to achieve warehouse productivity rates that rival goods-to-person technologies.
4. Intelligence-guided decision making
AMRs have been designed to leverage AI and machine learning, allowing the systems to make data-driven decisions in real-time. By guiding associates from task to task and optimizing picking routes, autonomous mobile robots allow associates to handle several tasks during one walking trip on the floor, thereby accomplishing more in less time. It also reduces steps between tasks and makes pick paths as dense as possible, reducing unnecessary walking.
5. Rapid ROI
Larger warehouse automation systems, such as conveyor or sortation, can take 12 to 24 months to go live and as much as five years to achieve ROI. There is often a lot of manual labor and planning required given the large footprint and weight of such equipment. AMRs provide a faster alternative for implementing automation and are safer, customizable and designed to work with your existing warehouse processes and staff. Some robotics systems, such as 6 River Systems’ solution, can be implemented in as little as four weeks and produce ROI within a year.
6. Streamlined onboarding & training
With training built into the design (collaborative robots guide your associates through the picking process), onboarding is simpler with autonomous mobile robots. Plus, fewer mechanical touchpoints and integrations make them more intuitive to use. These innovations make onboarding and equipment training a much simpler task, even for the greenest of hires.
7. Robust equipment reliability
The upkeep of equipment is an important factor in warehouse operations. Equipment breakdowns can cause major delays and bring operations to a standstill; a classic example of this is a conveyor breakdown. By adding autonomous robots to existing operations, it’s possible to improve the reliability of the overall system. Warehouse robots can be moved, serviced and replaced quickly to keep your operation continuously running with minimal delays.
As automation technologies continue to evolve, companies will need to evaluate their processes and find ways to implement new improvements. Autonomous robots provide a flexible solution for warehouses seeking the ability to scale their operations, accommodate changes in demand and maintain a conservative cost structure.
8. Better visibility with data
Beyond the movement of goods in and out of a facility, a warehouse management system (WMS) can track and manage inventory quantities as well. Solutions providers that merge hardware and software together, instead of keeping the data siloed, will be able to provide insights to make data informed decisions. Visibility and connectivity of all zones within a single warehouse or across multiple DCs will improve efficiency.
For a more in depth look at how autonomous mobile robots beat traditional warehouse automation, download this white paper.