5 Ways Robotics-as-a-Service Benefits Your Automation Goals

Why RaaS, Why Now?

Talk about Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) pricing models emerged in the early 2010’s. By 2018, the industry began to understand the benefits of RaaS more deeply. That year, Rian Whitton at ABI Research estimated that the installed base for RaaS will grow from 4,442 units in 2016 to 1.3 million in 2026, while annual revenues for RaaS providers are expected to increase from $217 million in 2016 to nearly $34 billion in 2026.

Now, with 2020 in the rearview mirror, the benefits of RaaS has become amplified. RaaS will likely see a greater surge in popularity and acceleration to the predicted timeline.

As proved in 2020, manufacturing, distribution, and warehousing organizations that adapt quickly to evolving conditions survive and thrive. Now, planning for Black Swan events has become a top consideration for global supply chain companies, as David Clear, Vecna Robotics CRO, and friends from Highjump Körber Logistics, GEODIS, and Interact Analysis discussed in October. A RaaS financing model is one way to preserve capital, adapt quickly, and remain operationally efficient for whatever comes next.

Five Ways RaaS Benefits Your Automation Goals

  1. No up-front costs. For many, capital expense approvals delay the implementation of new technology, and require up-front investment which can drain savings. Moving your AMR and AGV purchase to an operational expense opens up more freedom to use discretionary funds and accelerates timelines for deployment. This ensures operational savings are kept in a rainy day fund should a new crisis emerge.
  2. All-inclusive pricing. Robotics-as-a-Service factors in 100% of costs included in a traditional robotics deployment. This includes subscription to the software platform, deployment (shipping, IT integration, and facility mapping), training and support (including 24/7 US-based support), and maintenance.
  3. Immediate cashflow improvement. Realize immediate ROI by changing the cost structure from a one-time up-front cost to smaller monthly fees while maintaining cash liquidity.
  4. Fast implementation. Because RaaS typically requires a cloud-based IT architecture, deployment can be as fast as 4 weeks from purchase order to Go-live.
  5. Easy to scale. Under a RaaS model, the AMR vendor  deploys, connects, and upgrades self-driving materials handling equipment via cloud-based IT networking. This way, organizations can rapidly spool up production, reduce the upfront installation costs, and adjust workflows, routes, and fleet sizing on the fly.

Additional Benefits of a Cloud-based Robotics-as-a-Service Solution

In addition, with the IT network already in place, AMR vendors can upgrade or scale down the system quickly, based on changing business needs. For example, it is easy to:

  • Push software upgrades to the whole fleet of vehicles without customer intervention.
  • Increase fleet size and put new vehicles to work without a long deployment process.
  • Swap out old robots for new ones as new hardware becomes available.

This keeps floor space clear and preserves people hours. In addition, Robotics-as-a-Service makes it easy to adapt to changing workflows. In other words, a facility can deploy a new robot to do a new job while returning the old robot to the vendor.

RaaS for Operational Resiliency

In conclusion, a cloud-based RaaS model can provide the backbone for greater operational resilience – a necessity in today’s unpredictable industrial landscape. In addition to scaling easily, getting started quickly, and extending your workforce, RaaS is a way to create financial resilience. Use the capital saved plus the returns from up to 30% increase in operational efficiencies to invest in future automation. RaaS is an enabler for greater gains downstream.

 

3 Tactical Ways to Get Started with Robotic Forklifts

Robotic Forklifts 101:

There are many common assumptions that impede the adoption of robotic forklifts, but adopting automation doesn’t have to be hard! In this quick, 20-minute, interactive presentation, we’ve asked Jeff Huerta, Senior Vice President of Sales at Vecna Robotics, to explain three tactical ways you can move forward with robotic forklifts.

 

In a recent study conducted by Peerless Research Group, all trends indicate that manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution organizations are making a commitment to invest in robotic forklifts in the coming year. Despite economic uncertainty, the study showed that 67% of companies reported that their adoption timeline of self-driving industrial vehicles accelerated or stayed the same in 2020 

While the intention is clear, the road to adopting automation can raise many questions. Many organizations that have never adopted robotic forklifts assume that this technology is not for themHowever, assumptions can stand in the way of making easy automation gains. Unfortunately, those companies suffer in the long term, losing out to labor challenges, the cost of doing nothing, and ultimately fall behind.  

The good news is: adopting automation is not as hard you might think. In this article, we’ll cover common assumptions and tactical ways to move past them. 

Common Assumptions that Impede the Adoption of Robotic Forklifts 

Here are some common assumptions and what you need to know to work past them. 

  • We’re not organized enough: Your facility’s cleanliness and frequently changing processes are not an indicator of whether automation will work for you. For example, if you are a manufacturing organization, chances are your production floor changes frequently. The truth is, robotic forklifts see not just where they are and what’s nearby as they travel, but they also adjust to changes in your environment. In particular, Vecna Robotics’ Autonomous Mobile Robots do not need to be remapped every time there is a route change. They simply choose an alternate path based on their view of the world.  
  • “My site isn’t ready”Being “Ready” varies depending on your team’s labor challenges. In many cases, the greater the labor challenges, the greater the cost of doing nothing. In addition, your readiness will be dependent on understanding the financial feasibility for your specific company, workflow, and fleet size. Finally, your readiness depends on having conversations with your team and staff. Getting your team on board early is key to success, as we’ll discuss in the next section.
  • It’s too expensive: It’s too expensive NOT to automate. In fact, aside from the “cost of doing nothing”, both Capital Expenditure and RaaS models offer significant ROI. In a CapEx model, a 2-3 shift operation can expect ROI from 12-24 monthsThe ROI comes from using one single robot  over multiple shifts and applying that labor savings toward valueadded tasks. In a RaaS subscription model, you’ll see immediate benefit and ROI from day one. For more about RaaS, click here.  

Tactical Ways to Move Forward with Robotic Forklifts 

In the past, we’ve talked about the Crawl, Walk, Run approach to deploying autonomous mobile robots. In this article, I aim to give you three actionable things you can do right now to move past common assumptions and plan to incorporate self-driving forklifts in your facility.  

robotic forklift in warehouse

1. Understand pallet movement in your facilities 

Pallet movement is the foundation for any robotic forklift deployment. Look for areain your operations where people are spending time moving pallets. These non-value-added tasks are great adoption areas for autonomous mobile robots. If you’re unsure where to look, here are some common areas where workers spend a lot of time moving pallets: 

  • Cross-docking product from receiving to outbound docks  
  • Moving pallets from one staging location to the next in preparation for another process to take place thereafter 
  • Moving pallets from Finished Goods to shipping and replenishing the lines with raw materials 
  • Milk runs where staff drive materials from station to station, as in a line-side replenishment scenario 

 2. Educate your staff 

After using the exercise above to define an application, you should start educating your staff on potential workflow changes. It’s never too early to talk about your reasons for investigating new material handling robots. Technological change is about empowering people. What’s more: employee attitudes from management to floor staff can make or break a project. Adopting the latest warehouse technology should be seen as enhancement tool – not a threat. Here are some ways to get your team on board before you even go live with robotic forklifts: 

  • Focus your team on the ways that their daily tasks will shift to take on more meaningful work 
  • Explain that pallet movement will be handled by safe autonomous vehicles 
  • Get into the details of how the technology works and how you intend to work with it 

Vecna Robotics offers support for pre-deployment and post-deployment education for every stakeholder in your organization, from senior management to MHE operators. During the go-live period, our team is on the ground in your facility to provide education, answer questions, and ensure robots are working with your processes as smoothly as possible.  

 3. Reframe what you know about the investment in automation 

Often when we think about installing new autonomous solutions in our industry, we think of all the things that have historically come along with it: IT networking, infrastructure, construction, and more. These can add up to significant costs, plus the cost of interruption to your workflow. Good news! Autonomous Mobile Robots do not require the heavy infrastructure changes of the pastThink of an AMR deployment as adding a new type of material handling equipment to your fleet. No private network, no facility modification, no operational downtime required. Just a different kind of MHE to drop in and lighten the load on stretched staff 

In conclusion, overcoming assumptions is the first step to realizing that getting started with robotic forklifts is not as hard as you might think. By taking concrete steps to improve your facility readiness, staff readiness, and to understanding associated costs, you’ll be well on your way to greater operational efficiency in no time.  

Industrial Internet of Things and RaaS Pricing

Last month, we published an article talking about the history of the Robot-as-a-Service (RaaS) model, what it is, and how it’s relevant to the high-capacity AMR and AGV industry. This month, we explain the connection between the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) cloud-based architecture and a RaaS model.

Like a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, RaaS is a cloud-based solution. For instance, in a typical RaaS deployment for our Pivotal orchestration engine, the application is released to the cloud or in secure off-site servers. Pivotal tracks the real-time status of each robot in its fleet, including truck location, task type, estimated pickup or drop off time, and traffic in its proximity. Through secure integration, the facility’s WMS or MES assigns work to the application. Then, the application uses fleet status information to dispatch the right robot to the right job. Pivotal then presents that information on an enterprise dashboard, allowing for continuous improvement.

IIoT Architecture Suited to Scalability and Expansion

In a traditional pricing model, adding robots to an existing application can require extra work. Under RaaS, it is easy to scale a fleet and expand with new AMR models with minimal intervention from your vendor, based on the changing needs of your operation. Whether you decide to use 1 or 100 robots, we install infrastructure at your facility the same way. Increase fleet size easily, without an additional lengthy deployment process. In addition, you can swap out old equipment as updated hardware becomes available, or even change truck types based on changing needs and workflows. For example, a warehouse might swap pallet jack for a counterbalanced fork truck if they discover a bottle neck at the stretch wrap machine.

Expansion to Mixed Fleets

However, the real power of Pivotal lies in its ability to expand across platforms and human agents, and from one facility to multiple facilities. A cloud-based RaaS architecture makes it easy for facilities to:

  • share robots amongst facilities,
  • employ mixed fleets of AMRs and AGVs from a variety of vendors, and
  • assign missions to human operators.
    Pivotal IT Diagram

    A RaaS pricing model calls for a cloud-based IT infrastructure. As a cloud-based solution, Pivotal allows for future expansion from a fleet of AMRs operating alone to mixed fleets of AMRs and AGVs from a variety of vendors communicating with people, and equipment like Smart I/O Boxes.

(Check out this white paper we wrote with SVT Robotics to see how we’re making mixed fleets possible.)

The Power of RaaS and 5G in IIoT

The RaaS model and 5G connectivity are major players in the future of IIoT. Next-generation industrial automation systems, like autonomous mobile robots, are intelligent, connected devices that rely on:

  • large amounts of data and analytics
  • computation-heavy, real-time processing such as 3D vision perception, simulation, dynamic optimization, and machine learning
  • persistent wireless connectivity and M2M communication between large amounts of devices
  • software-driven devices that consistently improve via OTA updates

Historically, these systems face consistent challenges. Warehouses and factories usually have on-premise IT systems and are located in remote areas without access to high-speed internet. As a result, these facilities typically have limited WiFi bandwidth and strict security policies. 4G signals often do not provide reliable connection inside plants and lack enough bandwidth for data-hungry processing like real-time vision.

5G provides a standard, secure, reliable wireless infrastructure for next-gen automation and Industrial Internet of Things applications. Vecna Robotics has partnered with Verizon 5G Studios and Newlab to demonstrate a streamlined cloud-based architecture and deploy systems more rapidly. RaaS inherently sets up industrial infrastructure for the fastest, most reliable, most current, and most secure installation possible.

Find more information about RaaS and Vecna Robotics’ approach to OpEx pricing here.

RaaS: A New Pricing Model for the AGV Category

What is RaaS?

RaaS stands for Robot-as-a-Service. Much like the familiar Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) pricing model, RaaS removes upfront costs and rolls all fees into one monthly rate. This allows customers to realize a Return on Investment from day one.

While there are many benefits to RaaS pricing, the most important is shifting from Capital Expenditure to Operational Expenditure. Rather than having to gain executive-level approvals to purchase assets up-front, a monthly payment model means decision-making can be made at the local level. The solution provider assumes the depreciation of the asset and the end user realizes immediate cost savings.

A New Pricing Model for the AGV Category

The RaaS pricing model emerged in the mid-2010s to reduce heavy, up-front investment for coworking robots, namely robotic arms in industrial and manufacturing environments. Soon, small bots used for goods-to-person and person-to-goods conveyor applications adopted the RaaS model. To date, no high-capacity autonomous mobile robot or AGV has offered Robot-as-a-Service pricing, instead offering capital leases through 3rd parties.

However, with the growing demand for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and concern about capital preservation, RaaS is beginning to show up in discussions around high-capacity self-driving materials handling equipment. Through an independent survey completed in October 2020, Modern Materials Handling found that 32% of warehouse and distribution center management say they are holding back on adopting AMRs due to a lack of capital. One month later, Tom Andersson of Style Intelligence market research published his findings, citing a major trend around rising interest in the robot-as-a-service model for those in the market for autonomous pallet-moving vehicles in warehousing, manufacturing, and distribution centers.

Vecna Robotics is the first player in the high-capacity AMR and AGV space to offer the RaaS model.

A Close Cousin to MHE Leasing

Leasing equipment is common within the material handling industry, and RaaS is a close cousin. The exact definition of what is included under RaaS pricing varies by vendor. However, customers benefit from:

  • using robots from their vendor fleet,
  • no upfront costs,
  • all-inclusive pricing rolled into one monthly fee.

In 2019, ABI Research predicted growing popularity of this approach to an OpEx pricing model. This pricing model is proving to be a game changer for customers looking to bypass capital expenditures, especially through familiar means.

Download more information about RaaS and Vecna Robotics’ approach to OpEx pricing here.

How Automation is Revolutionizing Work in the Food Supply Chain

In an age when shifts can and do happen in the blink of an eye, supply chain automation offers the chance to revisit how work is done and how to keep workers safe.

Vecna Robotics AMRs

Vecna Robotics’ AMRs in facility

Food Logistics – September 2020 – For years, food and beverage warehouse workers have been incentivized to be as productive as possible and were rewarded with engineered rates. Today, however, the food and beverage industry is in the midst of a radical transformation in everything from agriculture to processing facilities, trucking to long-term storage and last-mile delivery. Combine that with proliferating SKUs, changing customer expectations for faster delivery and wider selection, and the impacts of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and it’s time to rethink this dated incentive strategy.

In an age when shifts can and do happen in the blink of an eye, supply chain automation offers the chance to revisit how work is done and how to keep workers safe. It also provides the tools to nimbly adjust operations in response to current events. The most successful organizations will blend human creativity and automation to improve operational efficiencies, increase output and grow revenues.

The difficulty with engineered labor standards

Engineered rates originated from the need to incentivize workers to do dull, dirty and dangerous jobs. For top performers, engineered rates are an excellent way to earn. However, the challenge is that Engineered Labor Standards compel workers to work faster while completing routine tasks on heavy machinery notorious for blind spots. For decades, this mix of high-speed travel and monotonous tasks resulted in injury, inventory damage and even death. In a large food warehouse, it only takes a momentary lack of focus when moving a pallet of food to create a potential safety incident.

By deploying autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), food and beverage warehouses can offset the amount of manual traffic operating in a facility every day, thereby reducing the chance for human error. At a time when brownfield and greenfield development is pushing the size of warehousing and distribution facilities ever larger, AMRs can step in and take on the long-distance hauling.

AMRs also use 360-degree sensors for protection and enhanced obstacle detection and avoidance. If an individual or machine gets too close, an AMR will slow down, find an alternate path to avoid the obstacle, or safely stop to avoid a collision.

While the automation of repetitive tasks is great for increased safety, it’s also proven to increase worker satisfaction. With AMRs, workers are no longer moving tons of pallets of products each day, trying to keep up with their engineered rates. Operators can be reassigned to tasks that require more critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, like mixed pallet building and exception handling. Robots, in turn, provide reliability and ROI by automating these repetitive tasks with greater efficiency.

Vecna Robotics Automation

Vecna Robotics AMRs significantly increase warehouse workflow efficiencies.

More SKUs, pallets and trucks

Another driver of transformation is that food and beverage organizations are experiencing more complex order profiles than ever before. Inbound orders of more SKU’s, half pallets, outbound orders of rainbow pallets, perishable items and shorter turnaround times create a dizzying logistics problem. Moreover, this increased level of picking, packing and scheduling can often lead to dock congestion.

AMRs and artificial intelligence (AI) can simplify these logistical hurdles. AMRs automate repetitive tasks at flow-through warehouses by moving goods away from dock doors to areas where inbound pallets can be broken down and outbound pallets can be rapidly built, keeping products moving throughout the warehouse quickly. And, since smaller pallets often require shrink wrapping for safety and transport, AMRs can interface with other industrial equipment like conveyors and wrappers.

Beyond simplifying tasks, AI-powered supply chain automation software can integrate into warehouse management systems (WMS) and have the “brains” to orchestrate workloads between robots, human workers and manual equipment based on the most pressing need at the moment.

For example, while humans are great at local optimization and solving edge cases with creativity, such as a product spill or machine error, orchestration software can view the warehouse at a system-wide level. So, if a loading dock is crowded due to an unexpected spike in inbound shipments, this AI-powered engine can assign tasks in real-time to the right resource to ensure workflow at the loading dock flows seamlessly.

Combating COVID-19

Today, worker safety and productivity is about so much more than industrial accidents. Recent news demonstrates that employees across the food supply chain are no exception when it comes to concerns about COVID-19. AI, AMRs and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can help keep workers safe amid the pandemic.

AI-powered orchestration software can be used to allocate tasks across every resource in a warehouse, including employees, AMRs and other manual equipment. These powerful engines can consider social distancing constraints while automating multiple tasks. Given a parameter for minimum spaces between workers, this software will determine the best approach to task allocation to decrease close human interaction. This allocation supports human workers by enforcing health and safety guidelines throughout the workday. And, since the orchestration software is also capable of issuing assignments in an incredibly efficient way, it helps improve productivity while reducing worker fatigue and eliminating crowded conditions.

Additionally, unlike their human counterparts, robots are impervious to disease and help create a natural buffer between employees. Self-driving industrial vehicles offer the chance to re-imagine workflows and find novel ways to automate repetitive and straightforward tasks that would previously create close human contact, such as line side delivery or goods to person.

For example, grocery is almost exclusively a picking and replenishment application – something that is predominately done manually. Greenfield development is a prime area to revisit the traditional approach to building rainbow pallets in order to reduce worker density and proximity. One method is to implement a break pack workflow where pallets are broken down to eaches, put into totes and used to stock a goods-to-person AMR system. AMRs can be put to work, pulling totes from standard racking and delivering goods to person. During peak time, people can also be deployed to aisles to handle the typical 50-75% spike in throughput. Using this system, organizations can largely keep people in their stations while safely improving throughput.

Moving forward, food and beverage warehouses need to realize that supply chain automation solutions are not only impervious to diseases and disruption, but they can also help keep workers safe, improve job satisfaction and enable humans to focus on higher-level initiatives, all while improving productivity and efficiency. This is crucial to remain competitive, especially in today’s unprecedented times.

See the published article here.