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Are Mobile Robots Right for Your Operation?
April 19, 2022
Many distribution centers (DCs) were designed to move pallet-sized loads of goods to brick-and-mortar retail stores. The growing convenience of online ordering, however, has resulted in more direct-to-consumer orders, which require more handling and are typically less profitable. Additionally, the exploding diversity of SKUs makes these challenges even more complex.
To make matters worse, distribution operations are caught between two demanding factors. Vendors demand increasingly strict service level agreements (SLAs), ramping up the pressure for greater throughput and accuracy. At the other end of the supply chain, consumer expectations continue to grow, with fast and free delivery — often on the same day s.
With such a drastic increase in the level of demand, as well as the challenges of the “new normal”, load transport can’t be handled by just adding more labor. This is partly because exploding demand requires greater levels of efficiency, accuracy and throughput than any number of human workers can hope to achieve. At a more basic level, however, there simply aren’t enough people available. Worker turnover in the industry is more than 46%, and a sizable percentage of the workforce is older than 55. Even before the pandemic, there were only enough workers to fill one in six available positions.
In this environment, warehouse automation is neither a luxury nor is it a costly and advanced strategy, available only to the largest high-end operations. In the coming years, it will become essential to the survival of any DC operation that needs to keep pace with this rapid market evolution.
While there are many solutions from which to choose, mobile robotics enable cost-effective automation to be deployed quickly, on-demand, with minimal risk and infrastructure changes. Autonomous mobile solutions also offer the benefit of easy growth at whatever pace your operation requires. In particular, we’re seeing early successes with applications like these:
- Pallet Conveyance — Pallet conveyance autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) offer attractive alternatives to forklifts and conveyors in many operations. Common applications include warehouse transport, cross-docking, movement of completed pallet loads from various warehouse operations (palletizing, wrapping, etc.), empty tote and pallet return, and even trash removal. This increases operational savings by reducing the number of forklifts and operators needed for transport, enabling them to be repurposed for other value-added jobs.
- Picking and Cart Transport — AMRs offer dramatic productivity benefits by automating the movement of carts used to transport picked orders, returns or kits. AMRs can travel over any floor surface smooth enough to handle a traditional cart pushed by a worker. Instead of spending more than half the day walking, workers can simply park carts in designated locations and call robots to come pick them up. In addition to distribution and fulfillment operations, AMRs offer similar benefits to kitting processes in manufacturing environments.
- Automated Machine Tending — AMRs with the in-line conveyor option can be used to transport parts and goods between automated manufacturing equipment, replenish automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), or handle items that can’t easily be moved by conveyors. They can also provide a flexible “bridge” between different conveyor systems.
These are just some of the ways AMRs are already handling the seamless movement of goods between locations, enabling more efficient and continuous utilization of equipment, vehicles and labor. For more information, visit our mobile robotics web page.
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