Autonomous mobile robots are coming to a DC near you - likely your facility - and probably soon. A.M.R.’s have taken the distribution world by storm, driven by both operational efficiencies and the challenges with finding enough labor in most US markets.
This podcast dives into the benefits that can be achieved, the challenges, and the keys to making your investments future-proof.
Full Transcript: Autonomous mobile robots, or A.M.R.’s, have taken the distribution world by storm, driven by both operational efficiencies and the challenges with finding enough labor in most US markets.
The interest in mobile robots has been especially hot in e-fulfillment applications, both to increase capacity and to reduce the high cost of piece picking.
In 2020, well-known Gartner analyst Dwight Klappich wrote that "Next-generation autonomous mobile robots are transforming operations as they become more autonomous and intelligent," adding that "AMRs are easy to buy and almost as easy to deploy. Given the low barrier to entry, combined with a strong value proposition, warehouse operations of all shapes and sizes will be able to invest in AMRs.”
Here at Softeon, we believe that most distribution centers of decent size will have at least some mobile robots deployed over the next 3-5 years.
There are a growing number of AMR providers. Those include Fetch Robotics, Locus Robotics, Geek Plus, Kindred, Vecna, Covariant, MIR, and others.
A key point is that robots are designed for different purpose, from piece picking to case picking to point to point pallet moves and other tasks.
That means you could wind up with robots from multiple manufacturers – and there’s the problem. Many robots come with their own software applications to support their use. In most scenarios, the Warehouse Management System sends to orders or other tasks to the robot software, which executes the work, with or without human assistance, and sends confirmations back to the WMS.
There can be a number of issues with this approach. First, it means the robots are executing tasks with less than the full information available to the WMS. This can lead to sub-optimal decision-making, and challenges dealing with exception handling.
Second, it means if you choose to use different types of robots for different jobs from different vendors, they operate in silos, perhaps not talking to each other. This limits efficiency. An example would be connecting an autonomous fork truck moving a pallet to a drop zone, for pick-up and putaway by a different type of robot.
Third, it makes adding robots from different vendors over time very difficult, because you are reliant on the existing robot vendor’s application software. So even if there is a better mouse trap, you can’t use it.
Recognizing these challenges, Softeon has taken a different approach.
We have developed an innovative solution that involves a single schema that can manage and optimize robots from any manufacturer. This means as tasks are created, Softeon’s WMS or Warehouse Execution System recognizes the type of work and assigns the tasks to the right type of robot, and then specifically to a robot of that type that is close by.
It also means down the road, if you want to add robots from other vendors for capability, cost or other reasons, those new robots can be added right into the current fleet and managed in one platform along with the existing robots.
This means your investments in mobile robots are “future-proofed.”
Autonomous mobile robots are coming to a DC near you, likely your facility too, and probably soon.
Look for a software platform that gives you the most optimization and flexibility moving forward. Softeon has a unique and innovative approach.