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Mobile Robotics: Optimization Strategies for Distribution Centers

Smart Robotics Make Distribution Centers Productive and Profitable

Mobile Robotics: Optimization Strategies for Distribution Centers

Labor augmentation is one of the biggest challenges facing fulfillment operations today. With vendors demanding increasingly strict service level agreements (SLAs), consumer expectations on the rise, and the diversity of SKUs exploding exponentially, it’s no longer possible to keep up just by hiring more people. And even if it were, any distribution center (DC) operator will tell you there simply isn’t enough labor available.

Fortunately, there’s a cost-effective automation solution that’s helping DCs make the most of the labor they already have. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are taking on some of the most labor-intensive warehouse jobs — handling repetitive and often time-consuming tasks while cutting in half (or even more) the time traditionally required by manual workers on the job.

Designed for uncompromising safety using many of the same technologies developed for self-driving vehicles, AMRs offer some of the simplest and most cost-effective automation strategies. With minimal infrastructural changes, they’re increasing reliability, improving flexibility, and maximizing the productivity of people and processes. Here are some of the most effective ways AMRs are transforming distribution centers:

Pallet Conveyance

Pallet conveyance AMRs offer attractive alternatives to forklifts and conveyor systems. Capable of transporting payloads of up to 1,500 kg, they can be loaded directly with a forklift, or transport loads independently between compact pickup and delivery (PND) stations. Integration with Momentum warehouse execution software (WES) seamlessly coordinates pallet movement throughout your entire facility, allowing your business to operate continuously at its full capacity.

Common pallet conveyance applications include warehouse transport, cross-docking, movement of completed pallet loads from various warehouse operations (palletizing, wrapping, crane loading, etc.), returning empty totes or pallets, and even trash removal. In addition to freeing up labor and equipment for higher-value jobs, deploying pallet conveyance AMRs leads to fewer forklift accidents.

Reverse Logistics

As e-commerce continues to grow, returns are also disproportionally on the rise. Estimates for returns of online purchases range from 15–30% or more, especially for apparel. This compares to rates of just 3–10% for brick-and-mortar stores. When returned or refurbished items arrive, they need to be sorted and then transported to different locations throughout the facility for processing.

AMRs offer dramatic productivity benefits by automating the movement of the rolling carts used to transport returns or kits. They 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 pickup locations and call robots to come pick them up. In this way, carts can be transported virtually anywhere in a facility with little or no human intervention. As with pallet conveyance, seamless integration with Momentum software is available as an option for even greater efficiency.

AS/RS Replenishment and Delivery

AMRs equipped with roller tops enable efficient, zero-touch material transport of loads up to 80 kg. This configuration delivers significant flexibility to bin-based workflows, by docking to automated equipment or bridging gaps between conveyor systems. Thus, AMRs can be used in DCs to perform tasks such as replenishment and delivery for automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS). When not performing other tasks, AMRs can also collect empty totes and return them to refill stations.

See the Results for Yourself

To see these remarkable robots in action, check out the links below:

Pallet Conveyance

Reverse Logistics and Kitting

Machine Tending

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