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Autonomous Mobile Robots – Warehouse Management and Supply Chain Applications

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Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are intelligent mobility platforms that help users to move things around in an efficient, cost effective, and collaborative manner without being aided by humans. They are widely used in warehouse management and supply chain and applications. The use of AMRs by companies that want to solve their complex supply chain and warehouse management issues helps the companies achieve operational excellence, which ultimately will translate into increasing revenues and profits.  

AMRs’ value proposition

Some of the benefits of using the autonomous mobile robots are

  • – AMRs can efficiently move objects from one location to another without colliding with humans and obstacles
  • – AMRs can take decisions on their own while performing the tasks that are programmed to be performed by them.
  • – AMRs are capable of getting an understanding of their surroundings with the help of built-in sensors & embedded software and then perform their tasks.
  • – AMRs can operate without depending on the help of humans.

Warehouse management and supply chain management operations are associated with the tasks / functions, such as transportation, receipt, storage, sorting, packing, and dispatch of a variety of goods. Traditionally, most of the operations in such centers are performed with the help of workers.  Such manual tasks are time consuming and not very productive; use of robots for performing the above mentioned and allied tasks is the best way to overcome them. AMRs offer excellent opportunities to automate some of these inefficient manual operations. They enhance the performance levels of various operations associated with such centers by efficiently transporting objects, optimizing the picking routes, minimizing pickers’ collection time, etc.  

How AMRs operate

In order to achieve autonomous working, AMRs must have the ability to perceive and understand, decide, communicate, and actuate. AMRs come with camera, sophisticated sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning, computing & wireless communication capabilities and with their help AMRs can understand & interpret their environment, read the site map of the facility, take decisions, efficiently navigate their way on their own to the desired destinations without colliding with obstructions, such as racks, forklifts, trucks, and people, and act.  Motors are typically used for actuating purposes. While some AMRs depend on infrared or ultrasound sensors to identify obstructions and navigate around them autonomously, others even use stereo vision and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), to understand their surroundings. While stereo vision is the extraction of three dimensional (3D) information from digital images, LIDAR is a method for determining the distance by targeting an object with a laser and measuring the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver. Collision avoidance is achieved through slowing down, stopping, or rerouting the path of the AMRs. AMRs can also be integrated with warehouse and distribution center control systems.  They can be programmed to meet the user needs. Should their batteries run low, they can go the nearest power point to get their batteries charged.  These features help AMRs to perform their tasks cost effectively, intelligently, and efficiently. By deploying AMRs, warehouses and other such facilities can gainfully benefit.

Applications for AMRs

Some of the other emerging areas where AMRs are finding applications are the following:

  1. 1. Warehouses and delivery centers are places that buzz with activities. All the time workers keep moving in and out of these places carrying goods either manually, with the help of forklifts or by other means. There is always the possibility of accidents and injuries due to various factors, such as being hit by a moving machine, slipping and falling, etc. The use of AMRs will minimize the need for workers inside the warehouses and their movements as they are designed to avoid collision with humans
  2. 2. Tasks such as carrying, loading, unloading, and sorting are repetitive, monotonous, and boring. Workers get tired of performing such tasks and, as a consequence, their efficiency and productivity goes down.  AMRs can be used to effectively perform such tasks and automate the process.
  3. 3. In warehouses and order fulfillment centers inventory management is essential and in that regard AMRs can play an important role. They can be used to carryout stock taking and the results can be linked to company’s IT solutions, such as warehouse management systems (WMS) and supply chain management systems (SCM).
  4. 4. The rapid growth of e-commerce due to various reasons including prevalence of the pandemic has resulted in the rapid expansion of eCommerce and fast-delivery expectations of customers.  AMRs can effectively address the related challenges, such as delivery and inventory management complexities.
  5. 5. Due to COVID-19 and consequent lockdown situation, people’s buying habits have changed and online shopping has almost become the norm.  Due to the same reason, it has become desirable to ensure that people do not congregate and work in close proximity.    

With more and more companies investing in digital technologies to enhance their operational efficiencies, improve their productivity levels, win customer satisfaction, and gain competitive advantages, future looks bright for the AMR market. So too, users of AMRs will benefit through automation of processes, which will result in enhancing the revenues, profits, shareholders’ value and customer satisfaction.2. 

Author

Rajabahadur V. Arcot

Senior Advisor, Quadrant Knowledge Solutions