For decades, manufacturing companies have been trying to optimize material handling, responsible for 30-75% of a total production cost. In a typical manufacturing company, material handling takes up 55% of all factory space, 25% of employees, and 87% of the production time.
Streamlining material handling systems can greatly reduce costs across all fields. Effective material handling solutions can reduce a facility’s production or distribution cost by significant amounts.
Technological advancements finally solve this problem using autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), which can transport materials in dynamic environments on a 24/7 timetable.
An AMR is a small mobile vehicle that can move its payload around the environment independently and flexibly. Equipped with sensors, onboard mapping blueprints, 2D and 3D vision, and other imaging technologies, it uses natural feature navigation to route its travel and avoid obstacles or pedestrians while carrying payloads.
However, not all AMRs are created equal. It’s therefore important to carefully choose a solution provider. A mobile robot must have several key features to provide the most value for an application. This post will explore things to look for while choosing an autonomous mobile robot for your facility.
1. Easy installation and customization
Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) first appeared on the scene about a decade ago as a material handling alternative to conveyors. AGVs aren’t ideal for transporting flexible materials, despite saving manufacturers from having to reconfigure multiple unwieldy conveyors. They require factory modifications, such as magnetic strips on the floor or beacons on the walls, to set up predefined pathways. During installation and whenever production changes, the need to retrofit a facility for an AGV system results in additional costs and downtime.
On the other hand, autonomous mobile robots can navigate without the use of floor magnets or wall-mounted beacons. Using its sensor, an AMR will first create a baseline map of the facility. It will constantly detect its surroundings once operational and compare what it “sees” with the original map. This allows it to avoid obstacles – both stationary and moving – by rerouting itself automatically. An AMR solution is more flexible overall and has a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than an AGV system because it does not require pre-designating a path.
You must choose mobile robots with simple mapping software and an easy-to-use interface for installation and integration to get the most value out of an AMR fleet’s ability to dynamically avoid obstacles. These capabilities will allow the system to adapt as quickly as possible to changing requirements. The AMR must be easily customizable so that the manufacturer or system integrator can adapt it to their specific needs.
2. Safe operation
Automating everything is impractical – and in many cases, impossible. Many tasks in factories and warehouses are beyond the capabilities of robots. It necessitates direct human-robot collaboration. As a result, for mobile robots, safety is a critical consideration. Companies must select AMRs with the most advanced environment detection technology, such as lasers and sensors, to ensure that the robots can move around safely in crowded places.
Most AMRs have sensors that can detect objects between the floor and the average height of a person’s knee, so they have no trouble detecting shelves on the ground or people walking around. Things can get tricky if there are pieces of equipment hanging from the ceiling or drawers protruding unexpectedly from the cabinetry. Depending on the environment, a robot with side lasers may be required to help it avoid hitting any hanging or protruding obstacles.
3. Fleet management
An ideal AMR should include a fleet management system that distributes work among several robots in the most efficient manner. A good fleet management system intelligently coordinates AMRs to share jobs so that the fewest possible robots are assigned to a task, allowing manufacturers to get the most out of their investment.
A good fleet management system keeps traffic moving so that AMRs don’t end up blocking each other’s paths or waiting too long to pass. The system assigns the list of jobs – such as picking up A from location B and transporting her to location C – in the most efficient manner possible. All tasks are completed in the shortest amount of time and with the shortest distance traveled among the entire fleet of robots.
Another factor to consider when selecting a mobile robot vendor is whether or not the vendor’s products adhere to domestic and international safety regulations. EN 1525 (Safety of Industrial Trucks, Driverless Trucks, and Their Systems), JIS D 6802:1997 (Automated Guided Vehicle Systems – General Rules on Safety), and ANSI 56.5:2012 (Safety Standard for Driverless, Automatic Guided Industrial Vehicles, and Automated Functions of Manned Industrial Vehicles), are some of the standards available. It’s critical for companies with global operations to check with the mobile robot manufacturer to ensure standards compliance in each region of operation.
In short, when evaluating a potential investment in autonomous mobile robots, you must consider how they will fit into the overall system and improve its functionality, efficiency, or productivity in one or more areas, such as increased throughput, lower costs, greater flexibility, higher accuracy, and faster order processing.