Ash Sharma, senior research director with Interact Analysis, traces investment patterns in autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), where they're being deployed today, and the state of the technology.
AMRs can be found in many environments that make up manufacturing and the extended supply chain, especially where e-commerce plays a major role in fulfillment. Particular advances in recent years have taken place in navigation, with a heavy reliance on Lidar, a remote-sensing technology that measures distance through the use of lasers. It allows AMR units “to be much more intelligent in obstacle avoidance, and figuring out where they are,” says Sharma.
Multiple sensors prevent collisions between robots and people, making them safe for operations where humans are present. Injuries caused by such incidents are “incredibly rare” these days, Sharma says, adding that the units “have a better sector record than manual fork trucks.”
The price tag for a modern-day AMR can be high, but returns are substantial, in the form of reduced need for human labor. That’s especially crucial in times of low unemployment, where the return on investment can often be realized in less than two years, and in some cases less than 12 months.
High unemployment in the current recession, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, temporarily has removed that advantage from the purchasing decision. But that hasn’t stopped many major manufacturers and retailers from continuing on their journey toward greater automation. “It’s not just about reducing costs,” says Sharma. “It’s about productivity — moving staff into more challenging and rewarding roles. People might not want to be picking boxes and moving fork trucks around.”
The use of AMRs in a “goods-to-person” environment can help to optimize stocking strategies within a fulfillment center, cope with seasonal peaks, and “put inventory where it’s needed,” Sharma says.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.