With the rapid development of e-commerce and e-grocery, more companies require automation in their warehousing and logistics chain. Warehouse automation aims to automate inventory movement into, within, and out of warehouses to customers with the least amount of human intervention. A company can eliminate labor-intensive tasks such as repetitive physical labor and manual data entry and analysis with warehouse automation.
Most traditional automation solutions, such as retrieval AS/RS, automated storage shuttles, automated sorting, robotic palletizing, and conveyor systems, are complex and fixed systems. Mobile robotic automation solutions, such as AGVs, AMRs, and mobile picking robots, have become more common. Many warehouses have chosen to replace traditional fixed automation with them.
We summarize four reasons why mobile robotics is becoming the industrial trend for warehouse automation, based on a market research report “Mobile Robotics in Logistics, Warehousing, and Delivery 2022-2042.”
Fixed automation, which typically involves the construction of large racks and long conveyors, can take months to install and commission. Installation is always time-consuming and expensive, and the automation system providers themselves do not always complete it. While some mobile robots (such as AGVs) rely on fixed navigation infrastructure, setting up laser reflectors, magnetic tapes, inductive wires, barcodes/QR codes, and other components is much easier and take less time. As a result, AGV systems typically take only 2-6 weeks to install. The installation time for autonomous mobile robotic units can be reduced further because robots only need to be shown around the facilities, and no additional environmental changes are required. In most cases, other software initialization can be done remotely or in the cloud. When it comes to initializing mobile robotic systems, the shorter installation period will have a smaller impact on daily operations.
Cost and ROI
Fixed automation necessitates a significant amount of upfront capital. However, according to IDTechEx’s report “Mobile Robotics in Logistics, Warehousing, and Delivery 2022-2042,” the initial cost of mobile robots could be less than a third of the cost of fixed automation. Fixed automation also costs more to install, maintain, and power than mobile robots. As a result, the return on investment for mobile robots is about 1-2 years, whereas fixed automation can take 5-10 years.
Changing the fixed automation could cost more money and time than installing it, and it could also put the entire production or operation on hold. Mobile robotic systems, on the other hand, are far more adaptable. Even though AGVs require infrastructure, changing fleet tasks only necessitates rearranging markers such as QR codes or magnetic tapes, which is far easier than reinstalling fixed automation. AMRs, on the other hand, do not require any supporting infrastructure and are even more adaptable. Mobile robots are thus well suited to agile material handling and production lines. In addition, the mobile robotic system takes up little or no space in warehouses, allowing for a more complex and flexible material flow path.
It’s difficult to scale the size or capability of fixed automation once it’s installed. However, the fleet size of mobile robots can be easily scaled so that businesses can deal with demand peaks (for example, Black Friday) in the most cost-effective way possible by only scaling the capability for a limited time. Furthermore, mobile robots assist warehouses or factories in maintaining lean operations.
Mobile robots can work for the entire day with only a few breaks for charging, but they can only carry a certain amount of weight for each task. Fixed automation can transport materials smoothly and continuously. Mobile robots may not be as efficient as fixed automation for large material flows in large warehouses. However, mobile robots can always be used with fixed automation to optimize warehousing processes.
Mobile robots vs. fixed automation – Comparison
|Characteristics||Mobile robots||Fixed automation|
|Scalability||It usually can take 2-6 weeks to install AGV/Cs. For AMRs, the installation time can be shorter.||Fixed automation usually takes months to be installed and commission. The installation is also very labor-consuming.|
|Cost||The overall cost of implementing mobile robots should be much less than fixed automation. And the maintenance and operation costs should be lower.||A large amount of up-front capital is required to implement fixed automation. And installation, maintenance, and powering also cost more. But the final return on investment (ROI) will be higher in the long term.|
|Efficiency||The productivity per day should be much higher than manual operation. But the efficiency is not comparable to that of fixed automation.||The fixed automation allows continuous material transportation, but the size of the fleet highly restricts the capacity of mobile robots. So the efficiency of fixed automation should be much higher.|
|Flexibility||Mobile robotic systems are much more flexible than fixed automation. Even though AGV/Cs need infrastructure support, changing the infrastructure is much easier than reinstalling fixed automation.||Usually not flexible. Changing the configuration can cost much money and time.|
|Scalability||The fleet size can be easily scaled up and down.||Once the fixed automation is installed, it is hard to scale the size or capability.|