Warehousing and material handling operations increasingly rely on autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) and automated guided vehicles (AGV) to drive efficiency optimizations. Per ABI Research, 2022 global AMR shipments are expected to increase 65% over last year. By 2030, an estimated 500,000 will be sold.
When integrating AMRs and AGVs with your operations, there are a few considerations you will need to account for to achieve the best return on your investment.
What are AMRs and AGVs?
Autonomous mobile robots (AMR) and automated guided vehicles (AGV) are two technologies incorporating next-gen capabilities to achieve similar ends for warehousing and material handling operations. AMRs and AGVs are streamlining picking tasks and transportation around facilities, and logistics giants such as Amazon are relying on them more and more.
AGVs primarily perform repetitive tasks and rely on pre-established guidance infrastructure to move around. Commonly, AGVs will navigate facilities via:
- Wire lines or magnets embedded in the floor
- Multi-headed camera systems relying on fixed reference points
The most significant barriers facing AGV adoption are the implementation of these guidance systems.
In contrast, AMRs are more sophisticated and require less dedicated facilities infrastructure. Their adoption will likely surge even more because of their lower additional implementation costs and timelines.
AMRs should be considered as continued innovation and technological development applied toward AGVs. They leverage machine learning capabilities to perform non-repetitive tasks and are showing impressive capabilities when it comes to:
- Environmental adaptations
- Learning from human operators
- Storing important location data and safety information
- Rerouting around obstacles
Per a Modern Materials Handling survey for 2022, 26% of respondents claimed they intend to invest in robotics this year, and a further 59% plan to invest in automation and technology.
Rethink Your Operations for AMRs and AGVs
The most crucial aspect to consider when planning an investment in AMRs and AGVs is that they do not function as direct replacements for your personnel. Instead, a collaborative approach is recommended. For example, AMRs could be configured to travel to locations where the necessary items are and stop to wait for someone to carry out the picking.
Further, each AMR and AGV fleet will require dedicated operational managers. You will need personnel to oversee responsibilities including:
- Task management and optimization
- Error handling and recovery
- Traffic flow
- Fleet configuration
- Charging and battery management
Warehouse layouts must also be reevaluated for optimal performance, from item locations to charge stations. Some studies suggest zoning warehouses and even designing these zones to flow in unidirectional loops to streamline AMR operation. It may also be beneficial to use numerous AMRs for simpler tasks and shorter trips.
Therefore, you cannot expect to invest in robotics and automation without significantly evaluating how your operations will need to adapt.
Cloud and Network Connectivity for AMRs
Generally, AMRs adhere to a top-down command model. This performs all complex decision-making computing in the cloud and pushes the instructions to simpler AMRs. To facilitate this model, you will need to ensure your facilities support strong wireless connectivity and have robust cloud computing capabilities. You may also need to consider expanding your IT team to provide support and maintain operational continuity.
The centralized computing model allows additional data to factor into decision-making and be better integrated with inventory and warehouse management systems.
The one significant decision that is commonly decentralized is individual AMR navigation. Because AGVs are limited to performing repetitive tasks and following predefined routes, this is less of a concern for their use.
Perform a Test Deployment and Simulations Before Going Live
Performing extensive AMR and AGV testing before deployment will help you determine any complications that can occur before they have severe ramifications in a live environment.
To perform an AMR or AGV test, you may need to partner with a systems integrator. Regardless, ensure that the testing area reflects the live warehouse floor that the robots will operate in—including aisle size, when to perform opportunity charging, and distance from chargers. This will help you gather the most reliable data.
Even after testing, you will likely need to perform simulations and modelling to determine what operations should look like at scale. Before launching in a live environment fully integrated with AMRs, you will need to know the likelihood of increased traffic congestion in certain areas, how that will affect overall operations, and if there will be significant delays.
Lithium Batteries and Charging
Advancements in lithium battery technology make them the go-to energy storage solution for AGVs and AMRs.
When a panel was asked about the most significant advancement in mobile robotics over the last five years, one executive stated that “battery technologies have improved a lot in terms of efficiency, power density, and fast charging, which has allowed for new applications in mobile robotics.”
Statements by company leaders made in a press release about the launch of Tennant Company’s new AMR floor cleaners similarly framed the effect of lithium battery technology. They extolled the achievements of longer operating times and less demanding maintenance. Compared to their lead-acid-powered models, those running on lithium batteries increased run times from four to up to six and a half hours. In these Tennant AMRs, lithium batteries enable:
- 25-60% longer run times
- Opportunity charging, regardless of current state of charge
- Minimized operator and maintenance training (e.g., no water-level topping)
- 2,000 charge cycles, which substantially reduces maintenance and replacement demands
Senior Director of Product at Brain Corp. (who partnered with Tennant on the AMR’s development) Jeff Heller stated, “Simply put, the more time robotic machines are running, the more productivity gains our customers can realize.”
Lithium batteries have also enabled AMRs and AGVs to be built physically smaller, which aids in navigation and maneuverability in facilities where the robots will work alongside personnel.
Charging AMRs and AGVs
Maximizing the advancements of AMRs and AGVs powered by lithium batteries requires advanced chargers that rely on sophisticated algorithms to recharge to full capacity with precision. Between lithium batteries that support opportunity charging and battery chargers that deliver precise and complete charge cycles, warehouses and material handlers can easily operate a fleet of AMRs or AGVs 24/7.
Charging will need to be a core consideration for AMR and AGV operations. Mobile robots must be capable of determining the optimal time to return for charging, which charger to use and whether that charger is already occupied.
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About Delta-Q Technologies
Delta-Q Technologies is charging the future and driving the world’s transition into electric energy! We collaboratively design, test, and manufacture robust battery chargers, that improve the performance of our customer’s electric drive vehicles and industrial machines. As the supplier of choice for Tier 1 OEMs, they use their values, perseverance, and engineering expertise to guide their customers through the electrification process for a sustainable world.
They are part of the Zapi Group of companies and headquartered in Vancouver, Canada. Delta-Q’s team and distribution span five continents to service industries such as electric golf cars, lift trucks, aerial work platforms, e-mobility, floor care machines, utility/recreational vehicles, and new markets, like outdoor power equipment, marine and construction equipment. For more information, please visit www.delta-q.com or follow company updates on Twitter and LinkedIn.