All these acronyms can make it confusing to understand which automated solution might be best for your operations. The good thing is, there are trusted companies in the material handling industry (like Abel Womack) who stay in business by knowing these acronyms inside and out, and how they might benefit your operations.
The acronym we’ll take a closer look at is AMRs – Autonomous Mobile Robots
(oooOoo “robot” – is that still a scary word/technology?)
What is an AMR?
Mobile – can move (common knowledge)
Robot – machine; doesn’t take lunch breaks, have feelings, or sick days (the author)
Put it together and an AMR is a machine than can move independently.
(…take it apart and you likely voided your warranty)
What Makes an AMR Different?
From an AGV (Autonomous Guided Vehicle):
The key difference between an AGV and AMR is in the last 2 letters – both phonetically and operationally. A guided vehicle (GV) needs to follow a path (that’s how it’s guided) and is simply a vehicle, like a tugger or cart mover or pallet mover. Whereas the mobile robot (MR) is independent of guidance and can move along the 2D plane (floor) in any direction. Functionally, because an AMR has robotic functions, it can do more than just pull and tug things. Depending on the type, an AMR can have picking functionality or come with value-added accessories like HMIs (human-machine interfaces or touchscreens) that allow an operator to work hands-free within picking aisles.
From an AS/RS (Automated Storage & Retrieval System):
An AS/RS is like having an AGV or AMR within a confined system. Usually, an AS/RS would consist of shuttles or bots that store and retrieve items within aisles and levels. An AMR is more autonomous and has freer mobility than an AS/RS in that an AMR is not confined to a physical space (except the building itself and other customer parameters).
From a GTP (Goods-to-Picker) solution:
A GTP solution is technically an AS/RS and vice versa, items are stored and retrieved within a confined system. GTP solutions are usually focused on product types versus case types, which are usually stored in AS/RS solutions. In industry terms, GTP solutions are based on handling mini-loads and can handle cases and/or eaches, differing from AS/RS systems that can be made to handle pallets or full cases. Nevertheless, the AMR would differ from both in terms of autonomous mobility – it can travel outside of the GTP or AS/RS confined box.
Why an AMR?
When it comes to automation there is no “one size fits all” solution available. This is what makes unbiased integrators and consultants so valuable – customization. Not every facility is fit for automation right now – though this may change as the individual business needs change. The first thing to do is ensure you optimize your current operations. Once you “cut the fat”, it’s easier to operate more efficiently and justify the case for automation. Remember that a bad process that’s automated is nothing more than an automated bad process.
Once the case for automation has been made, your integrator might conclude that an AMR makes the best business sense for automating your operations.
How? I’m glad you asked. There are specific tell-tale signs that an AMR is right for you. However, ALWAYS justify this with data!
- Lots of aisles for picking small to mid-sized products (think… conveyable)
- Lots of manpower to pick small to mid-sized products within a confined space
- Labor to move carts is not ergonomic; products are heavy or travel distance with cart is long and repetitive
- Repetitive movements that take away from operator tasks, or keep them from other value-added services
AMRs are not the most automated solution your facility can have – though it is far removed from conventional. There comes a time when conventional matures to legacy and the new technology matures to an everyday part of operation before it too becomes conventional.
My first cell phone was 24 years ago, a flip-phone that now seems ancient. At the time, I couldn’t visualize a world where everyone had a phone in their hands let alone a touch-screen phone. However, in a short time, the technology boom didn’t just provide touch-screen phones, but tablets, watches, TVs, appliances, and vehicles that are all “smart”.
The material handling revolution is already underway. In the near future, if we’re not all bought out by Amazon, all facilities will need to automate or contract a 3PL that has.
AMRs are like the world coming to acceptance of elevators – sure, elevators aren’t made for all facilities (a one-level house does not need an elevator), but where an elevator makes sense… would you rather take the stairs? Would your employees rather keep taking the stairs?
More so, in your place of business, where employees are paid by how well your company does, wouldn’t it make sense to maximize the company’s ability to create revenue and profit? If your employees are taking the stairs all day, they aren’t creating revenue (getting orders out the door). While your warehouse may not require operators to take the stairs, how much are they walking versus preparing orders? How often are they performing repetitive tasks that can be optimized by adding an AMR solution?
The point is never to make you feel badly – unless that’s how you’re motivated towards automation. Contact our automation team to determine if an automated solution is right for your operations.
You also can check out our Best Practices blog for tips on what can (and should) be done before you move forward with automation.