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Move Pallets Efficiently and Safely With Autonomous Mobile Robots

Mobile Robotics

Move Pallets Efficiently and Safely With Autonomous Mobile Robots

Due to the pandemic, spikes in e-commerce demand have increased the handling and movement of palletized goods within distribution and fulfillment (D&F) operations. Yet the traditional methods of pallet conveyance present myriad challenges in today’s complex fulfillment environments. Among them:

  • Heavy reliance on scarce labor Hiring and retaining a reliable workforce was difficult even before the pandemic, with only enough workers available to fill one in six open positions — a trend that shows no signs of improving. Meanwhile, moving pallets requires multiple workers to operate forklifts, pallet lifters and even conveyor systems.
  • Dangers associated with forklifts — It’s already tough to find experienced forklift operators who are qualified, trained and certified. Perhaps that’s a contributing factor to forklifts being a leading cause of warehousing injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), forklifts are involved in an average of 34,900 serious injuries and 61,800 minor injuries annually.
  • Fixed conveyors can’t flex — While pallet conveyors can be used to replace forklifts for load transport from point A to point B, their paths cannot be easily modified should market conditions or workflows change. They also may not fit into smaller facilities, such as micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs).

In our most recent On The Move webinar, we shared how autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) address all these worsening challenges. Smart robotic systems — such as Freight AMRs supplied in collaboration with Fetch Robotics — are currently automating pallet conveyance workflows across a variety of warehousing and distribution processes. These AMRs come in sizes that can handle cases and pallets up to 500 kilograms and standard 40 x 48-inch pallets and payloads up to 1,500 kilograms.

Deployable on-demand, AMRs can be used in any facility with minimal information technology (IT) or infrastructural modifications. For safety, they’re outfitted with 3D cameras, light detecting and ranging (LiDAR) sensors and onboard dynamic obstacle-avoidance technology, giving them continuous, unobstructed 360-degree vision with no blind spots. These features allow them to autonomously navigate and independently route around people, vehicles, forklifts and other obstructions, resulting in fewer injuries and less product damage.

Further, AMRs can replace some (or all) fleets of forklifts, boosting operational savings while cutting labor costs. Because they can run up to 8 hours on a single battery charge (and take less than 1 hour to recharge), AMRs enable continuous operation for maximum asset utilization. They integrate easily with an operation’s existing manufacturing execution system (MES) or warehouse execution system (WES) — including Honeywell Intelligrated’s Momentum WES — to coordinate and optimize pallet movement while eliminating manual errors and wait times. A fleet of AMRs can also be scaled up or down quickly to adapt to changing order volumes, while simultaneously freeing up existing labor to perform more value-added tasks.

Pallet conveyance by AMR: Application examples

In the webinar, we shared several examples of real-world use cases where AMRs are being leveraged for pallet conveyance in modern operations. In addition to moving pallets, they’re also delivering measurable results and fast return on investment (ROI). AMRs are currently used for:

  • Warehouse transport Moving palletized products to storage locations after unloading at the point of receipt
  • Cross-docking Transporting pallet loads from an inbound trailer or container directly to an outbound trailer
  • Delivery to palletizationTransferring a completed pallet load to a palletizer, a stretch-wrapper or a pallet crane for finishing
  • Empty pallet return Collecting and moving a stack of unloaded pallets from a point in a manufacturing process, or after contents have been decanted into an automated material handling system, to a refill station
  • Recycling or trash removal Automatically transporting waste, including baled corrugate, dunnage or other packaging materials, from processing areas to outbound removal areas
  • Picking support Combining with order-picking technologies (e.g., voice or barcode scanner) to improve accuracy and efficiency while transporting picks to reduce worker travel between pick zones

To learn more about how AMRs can help your operation to meet pallet conveyance goals while increasing flexibility, productivity and profitability, please view this webinar.

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