Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): Types and Use Cases

What are Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)?

With the boom in e-commerce and accelerating shipping schedules, warehouse management challenges are hardly new. You have access to a limited amount of space in a warehouse, from storing inventory to providing workspace for staff members to pick, sort and assemble; every square foot counts. It is also challenging to maintain accurate records of all the products in your warehouse, which is a necessary aspect in warehouse management.

AGVs (Automatic Guided Vehicles) are commonplace where repetitive material delivery is required, such as factories and warehouses. AGVs have brought tremendous changes to the world of order fulfilment and material handling.

On the other hand, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are capable of lifting and transporting objects. They are able to detect obstacles and navigate the floor without using physical markers. Material handling companies have started to integrate them into their solutions for warehouses, distribution centres and production facilities. In some ways, AMRs are similar to Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs). However, they are more adaptable and flexible.

These intelligent and convenient assistants are perfect for transferring loads. Equipped with advanced sensor technology and a digital warehouse map, the compact robot can navigate around with ease and flexibility. They choose the most efficient route to transport items and can avoid obstacles on their own. AMRs can be integrated into the warehouse management system and control software. Through simple configuration changes within the software, it is possible to communicate directly with an AMR and delegate new assignments directly. More importantly, since the entire AMR fleet can be managed through these methods, the next available free robot can be used wherever needed. An Autonomous Mobile Robot can move goods from point A to point B in the warehouse with high precision and complete independence.

Benefits of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)

Today’s order fulfilment and material handling operations stand to benefit greatly from implementing a more robust inventory visibility system throughout their supply chain. The following are just a few of the many advantages that inventory visibility provides:

1. More Efficient Time Management

Tracking inventory manually is a time-consuming and costly process. This applies in cases where operations are done in complex supply chains, products being delivered regularly between multiple warehouses, distribution centres, and stores. Manually tracking node-to-node inventory along the supply chain can add to wasted man-hours, which is one of the reasons why many logistic operations are almost inadequate. With the development of technologies like RFID (radio frequency-identification) and barcode scanners, inventory tracking is much more automated than in the past, allowing you to use your time and capital efficiently.

2. Increased Flexibility

With AMRs, no wires or magnetic tapes are needed for operations, as opposed to AGVs. AMRs enable flexible and agile automation because of their onboard sensors and cameras. An AMR can dynamically create their own efficient paths within a facility instead of predefined paths, which can help them avoid obstacles. Additionally, AMRs hold an advantage over other automation systems as they are easily programmable to perform different tasks.

3. Safer Operations

Built-in sensors, laser scanners and intelligent algorithms are used in AMRs to detect workers and obstacles and adjust its path accordingly. They can also handle heavy workloads that are dangerous for humans to do. By doing so, it creates a safe and collaborative environment for AMRs and warehouse workers. Human workers can be distracted and cause accidents. AMRs can be used in repetitive tasks to eliminate the chance of human error while improving the overall safety of the facility.

Types of Autonomous Mobile Robots

1. Transportation

The workflow of transporting materials for production and assembly lines is often known to be a time-consuming task for manufacturers. AMRs operate in a cost-effective way to automate material handling in almost every situation, removing the need for employees to push carts around the facility. These employees can be redeployed for higher-value tasks from the warehouse to the assembly line, and can be done efficiently through AMRs. AMRs also prevent workers from pushing heavy loads and allow them to remain at their workstations while processing internal transport, enabling companies to adhere to the recent requirements of keeping a social distance. AMRs have the ability to manoeuvre through busy manufacturing environments, automatically stopping if collisions are imminent, and no infrastructure is required so the AMRs can be rerouted for new production layouts. Additionally, these mobile robots have an open interface as such, they can be mounted and tailored to almost any application and customized accordingly to the customer’s needs.

2. Picking

The combination of thousands of daily orders and different small products (SKUs) has altered the warehouse environment and complicated day-to-day operations. In addition to complex orders, customers want fast deliveries. 240, that’s approximately how many orders Black Friday will pick by the time you finish reading this paragraph. The main pain point of warehouse operations is removing items from storage to meet a specific demand. It accounts for 50%-60% of the total operating costs of manually operated warehouses. Time is typically wasted by human pickers walking from aisle to aisle, looking for products that need to be picked up. This activity represents approximately 55% of the total time of human workers.

They are designed and built to operate with human operators and are frequently referred to as partner robots. AMRs are available in a variety of styles depending on the application. Some offer platforms and shelves where you can ride in cartons and tote bags, others come equipped with articulated robotic arms for picking and catching items. The third option comes with a power belt at the top that enables it to work with a sorter or conveyor and deposit or accept a load. Many workers have integrated touch screens and tablets into their designs to receive data, or convey directions to their human colleagues. Think of the goods coming to the picker, instead of the picker travelling to the goods. Imagine how much time and energy it would save.

3. Sortation

The sortation process in distribution centres has proven to be inefficient and AMRs can enhance this process by managing orders according to advice from the central management system. Sortation robots are more cost-effective and flexible than conveyors, requiring lesser floor space to operate and lesser time to install to achieve the same results. AMRs for sortation require different handling technologies, from roller conveyors to tilt trays, to cross-belt conveyors. They can handle SKUs with different shapes and weights, and in different containers. When the AMRs detect a full destination box, the system will be triggered and other mobile robots will transport it to the outbound area for shipping. An AMR will bring in an empty container to resume the sortation process. It offers an attractive alternative to conventional cross-belt conveyor and tilt-tray based sortation systems, which are commonly used in warehouse distribution centres and eCommerce businesses. This new method reduces the amount of time that humans need to travel between picks. The initial deployment is less costly and more flexible, and can be adapted to fit many different types of warehouses and distribution centres.

AMR vs AGV

As executives evaluate AMRs and AGVs for their industry 4.0 initiatives and lean transformation, there is a need to understand the difference between AGVs and AMRs, and how it can affect their facilities both in the short and long term. They must decide between continuing to use or invest in Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), or going for the more flexible and high-tech alternative: Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs).

AGV AMR
Cost Costs money to change infrastructure within the facility

Minimal changes to the facility, no additional deployment costs
Scalability Changing AGV operating patterns requires deployment to be done from scratch Calculates the shortest route from A to B. Possible to change route from A to C with just the click of a mouse

Navigation Guided by magnetic stips or tracks

Creates a digital map and uses it to calculate the best route option from destinations A to B
Operations Stop when they spot an obstacle and remain there until the obstacle is taken out

Navigates around obstacles and goes directly to the intended point
Speed of Implementation Setup might be cumbersome, complex and costly Includes mapping facility once with a robot and setting up points of interest on the map

Cost and Scalability

An AGV is a technology that assists with material movement and logistics in highly structured and static environments; they were first introduced as a material transportation tool during the 1950s. Despite AGVs’ playing a key role in internal logistics of manufacturers around the world, mobile robot technology has evolved significantly.

As a newer alternative to AGVs, AMRs offer low-cost startup and flexibility. We need to differentiate between their biggest shortcomings: high cost, inefficiency and limited flexibility. Although AGVs are cheaper, they can be more expensive to deploy since they require the setting up of a bigger facility. To overcome this issue, companies usually establish large-scale deployments if they are choosing AGVs. The efficiency of AGVs is therefore evident for large-scale deployments. Nonetheless, AMR setups are more cost-effective for small scale operations.

Navigation

AGVs navigate using traditional means (tracks, wires, tapes). Once these are set up, they become fixed after the initial installation and must be modified whenever a delivery scenario changes. On the other hand, an AMR’s navigation system uses an on board camera, laser-based technology and digital maps. This allows AMRs to be configured quickly, leading to a rapid return on investment, usually within a few months. The robots can also be reprogrammed easily by changing the route on a digital map.

Deployment

AGV systems are usually designed to operate without human interference and in an area away from people. AGVs are undoubtedly safe because they will stop if they detect an obstacle, but will remain there until the obstacle is removed. They are the opposite of AMRs: open to collaboration from the start. AMRs go directly to the intended point, no matter where it may be. They can share the same hallways with pedestrians. An AMR is capable of navigating around an obstacle and the delivery process can continue without interruption and it would be even more effective if AMRs worked in a controlled environment like an AGV system.

In Conclusion

Any business that desires to maintain a competitive market position in the next decade will need to be adaptable regardless of industry. The use of AMRs allow manufacturers, hospitals, pharmaceuticals and other industries with internal logistics to reduce labour costs and focus on providing a quality product or service, and capitalizing on that quality in a way that boosts profitability. AMRs are also more flexible and scalable than AGVs, and can work well in places of higher human traffic.

You can use Autonomous Mobile Robots or other types of automation depending on your specific operation. Equipped with the skills to analyze your workflow, they are intelligent enough to suggest alternatives that will be best suited to your business. The best path forward for your business can be determined by a trusted systems integrator.

How Can We Help?

Konica Minolta offers safe, cost-effective autonomous mobile robots to radically automate your internal operations. The robots optimise and streamline workflows, freeing up staff resources and reducing costs in the process. In addition to autonomously moving items, these mobile robots can interact with infrastructure like lifts and doors, as well as attach custom top modules such as robotic arms and hooks to work with bins, racks, and conveyors – whatever your application demands. Top modules can be easily changed to enable the robot to accomplish different tasks.

In a dynamic environment, obstacles such as people, pallets and other robots may interfere with the AMRs’ tasks and cause congestion. With the MiR series, technicians are able to manage robots and direct them to navigate multiple paths safely and efficiently. It enables workers to monitor parameters and manage tasks.

sLatch LM200

The sLatch LM200 latching system that operates together with the MiR100 and MiR250 series. The system facilitates internal transportation and logistics within industries such as hospitals, warehousing, food manufacturing and logistics. It allows your autonomous mobile robots to navigate narrow aisles and corridors with ease and without the need for human intervention. Virtual registers (software) are present in both MiR100 and MiR250 and can be customised so that multiple devices including laptops and mobile devices can control the sLatch LM200 on the fly.

sConnect

With dynamic data visualisation, sConnect presents detailed and actionable insights, allowing you to optimise the performance of your autonomous mobile robots. This tool helps you to optimize robot performance and Return on Investment using in-depth and easy to understand data visualisation.

sWorkflow

sWorkflow can easily execute different AMR automated workflow scenarios based on business rules. AMR can be easily integrated with other IoT sensors and material handling equipment. Additionally, it interfaces with physical material handling systems like conveyor systems, automated storage and retrieval systems. The interoperability and integrated workflow engine in sWorkflow enables you to configure processes in a flexible manner for maximum system capacity.

Should you require more information on how we can help automate your operations, kindly fill up the form below and our representatives will be in touch with you