Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR): Where to Find Them Now and in the Future

The use of autonomous mobile robots (AMR) is a breakthrough for supply chain management. The applications of AMR in the warehouse are limitless, capable of replacing human labor for demanding, repetitive tasks. As technology grows more advanced, the value of AMR will increase. Warehouses will be able to fill more orders, replenish inventory faster, and reap significant savings and return on the investment in AMR on labor costs and through risk reductions. AMRs are already breathing new life into warehouse operations through four, distinct types of robots, reports Craig Guillot of Supply Chain Dive. Supply chain managers need to understand how they’ll affect future operations as well.

Picking Robots/Gantry Robots

Picking robots are capable of eliminating unnecessary walking between bin locations and stations. These robots may also be leveraged to pick order tickets. Workers waste an average of seven weeks per year in unnecessary motions like walking. Increasing labor efficiency through robotics could save up to a combined $4.3 billion in labor costs. Furthermore, the use of picking robots can move both horizontally and vertically, reducing the risk of falls. Their applications also extend to picking many more orders than a human could pick in a given time frame.

Sorting Robots/Stationary Articulated Robots

Stationary robots are used for palletizing and depalletizing freight. The variability in warehouse pallets is well-suited for the use of sorting, stationary robots to move freight to different conveyor belts for both putaway and movement to outbound zones. This can be an advantage for companies trying to use cross-docking to move product faster at unloading docks. These robots also have applications in packaging, labeling, and the loading of freight onto outbound trucks.

Self-Driving Forklifts

The self-driving conversation is expansive, so let’s focus on self-driving carts and forklifts in the warehouse. Self-driving forklifts move large volumes of freight throughout the warehouse. Using sensors and connected platforms, they speed reslotting and putaway processes. Moreover, self-driving forklifts may be leveraged in specific areas too, like moving palletized freight onto and off of trucks. Combined with intuitive controls, these robots may also use self-docking technologies, similar to that of a Roomba vacuum cleaner, to recharge periodically and when not in use.

Autonomous Inventory Robots

“An inventory count is the only true way to know exactly how many pieces of inventory are in a warehouse.” This is not necessarily true. Modern systems can track SKU-specific details to provide a more accurate inventory count. However, a physical count of inventory will always be necessary. Unfortunately, a single inventory count for a warehouse could result in a complete halt to order fulfillment of up to four days, if not more when problems arise.

Autonomous inventory robots can move throughout a facility, through the use of AIDC technologies like Bluetooth and RFID, as well as 2D scanners, to complete a physical inventory count. The value lies in the ongoing nature of the application in checking and rechecking inventory levels. The combination of autonomous inventory robots and reordering and procurement systems product can aid in knowing when product needs to be returned to the manufacturer for seasonal or vendor-mandated changes.

The Future of AMR in the Supply Chain

The future applications of AMR in the warehouse are extensive. The concepts of drone delivery, including flying drones and autonomous trucks, will become a more significant player in the AMR space. Recently, the Trump Administration broke down many of the barriers limiting the testing of autonomous vehicles for commercial purposes, reports Michael Laris of The Los Angeles Times. As a result, more companies will begin to explore the use of driverless trucks and flying drones for delivery, especially last-mile delivery. Drones may lead to additional changes in warehouses too. For instance, drones may pick orders and deliver them in the same series of steps. Amazon has already filed and received a patent for a floating, blimp-style warehouse that would use this-style of drone to fulfill and deliver orders from the air, asserts Don Reisinger of Fortune.

Start Integrating Supply Chain Systems to Reap the Benefits of AMR

The opportunities for efficiency and productivity gains through AMR technology will continue to grow in value and scope. Supply chain managers need to start thinking about how to put the power of robotics to work in their facilities to reduce costs and decrease order cycle times. Such technology will demand best-of-breed warehouse management and execution systems (WMS and WES), as well as full integration between all supply chain systems. Veridian can help your organization prepare for an autonomous, robotic future through new system selection, implementation, and upgrades.

Veridian, a Manhattan Associates, HighJump, and JDA warehouse management system implementation company, can help you realize your supply chain success. Fill out the contact information below in order to schedule a consultation call with one of our supply chain professionals.