AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots) are revolutionizing the way warehouses and factories operate, providing operators with the advanced tools they need to meet rising customer expectations and increasingly intensified competition. In an era where speed, efficiency, and accuracy are paramount, these intelligent machines are becoming indispensable assets. They support a wide range of applications in the modern warehouse and factory, including order picking, inventory management, and resupply requests, functioning as an integrated part of the supply chain process.
With an AMR fleet working alongside human operators on the floor, companies can create a synergistic environment where machines handle repetitive and precision-demanding tasks, and humans focus on more complex, cognitive functions. This collaboration can maximize productivity while reducing errors, allowing employees to concentrate on higher-value tasks that drive real business results. It’s not just about automation for efficiency’s sake; it’s about enhancing the human element of the workforce and creating opportunities for growth, learning, and innovation.
AMRs also represent a flexible and scalable solution, able to adapt to various operational needs and changes in demand. Their ability to integrate with existing systems, and the potential to reprogram them as needs evolve, makes them a future-proof investment. By leveraging this technology, businesses are positioning themselves to be more responsive to market fluctuations and more resilient in the face of unforeseen challenges.
In this article, we’ll look at some specific examples of how AMR robots work and their benefits.
Localization – how the AMR robot knows where it is
Traditional “old-style” Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) represent an earlier phase in the evolution of warehouse and factory automation. These vehicles require some sort of physical infrastructure to navigate through their environment. The infrastructure could include wires, stickers, reflectors, tape, or magnets, or a combination of these elements. This necessity for physical cues means that any changes in layout or operations would require manual alterations to these guiding systems, creating significant downtime and labor costs.
In stark contrast, modern AMR robots signify a revolutionary step forward, needing no such infrastructure. Utilizing advanced technology like sensors, cameras, and sophisticated algorithms, they can recognize and navigate using natural landmarks like walls, pillars, or shelving to understand their location. This ability allows them to function more fluidly within existing environments and adapt more readily to changes.
AMR robots are designed to store a map of the facility in their digital memory, creating an internal blueprint of their surroundings. And when one AMR robot knows the map, it can share it with other AMRs, making the addition of more robots easy and quick. This interconnectedness among AMRs not only streamlines deployment but fosters collaboration among the robots themselves. If the facility changes, the map can simply be updated digitally, without the need for physical alterations.
This comparison between AGVs and AMRs illustrates a profound shift in the capabilities and flexibility of automation technology. While AGVs have their place, the rigidity of their design and reliance on physical infrastructure makes them less adaptable. Any desired change in an AGV’s path would require physical changes to the wires, tape, or other guiding systems, costing significant time and labor, not to mention the disruption of ongoing operations.
AMRs vs AGVs: AMR robots plan paths; AGVs follow paths
Not only do traditional AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) need physical markers to tell them where they are, but those markers also rigidly define the pathway they are to travel. This inherent inflexibility manifests itself in the way they handle unexpected challenges in their environment.
What happens if an AGV encounters a lot of traffic, or an obstacle like a stray pallet, on that predetermined pathway? Traditional AGVs will simply stop and wait until the obstruction goes away. When faced with a stationary obstacle, it often means that human intervention is required. A worker must come to the rescue and remove the impediment, taking them away from their assigned duties and diminishing the usefulness of the automated vehicle. This rigid adherence to a set path without the capability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances can lead to inefficiencies and disrupt the flow of operations.
In contrast, AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robots) robots represent a more sophisticated and flexible approach to navigation. They plot out their paths using their internally stored map, typically choosing the shortest route. However, unlike AGVs, they possess the intelligence and adaptability to respond to changing conditions. If an obstacle blocks their pathway, AMR robots are smart enough to assess the situation and decide how to proceed.
They may determine that they can simply swerve around and circumvent the obstruction. If the AMR robot detects that a minor maneuver won’t work or isn’t safe, then it can plan an entirely different route to its appointed destination. This ability to dynamically re-route in response to obstacles not only avoids delays but can also optimize the path based on real-time conditions.
The impact on efficiency is clear. AMR robots require less human intervention to get their job done.
How an AMR robot can handle changing conditions
All mobile robots, whether traditional AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) or modern AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots), operate with safety zones. These zones ensure that robots maintain a minimum distance away from people or other vehicles before they operate at full speed. However, how these safety zones are managed and the flexibility in adapting to changes can vary greatly between AGVs and AMRs.
Traditional AGV vendors often attempt to define routes that allow for this safety buffer. However, this approach may become problematic when the environment changes or becomes more complex. Let’s say a loading dock was less well used when the AGV was installed, but as the facility starts operating at a higher capacity, some pallets start to be stored closer to the predefined AGV route. This proximity to the route can interfere with the AGV’s programmed safety zones.
To optimize safety, most AGVs will slow down to a crawl when they pass these pallets, as their pre-set safety protocols demand. Travel times lengthen as the AGV cautiously navigates the pathway, leading to reduced efficiency. If an operator decides to override the safety zone setting to maintain speed, it can become a significant safety risk, potentially compromising the well-being of workers and the integrity of goods.
AMR robots, on the other hand, are equipped with the intelligence and adaptability to respond to such situations with more nuanced strategies. They can simply give these protruding pallets a wider berth, recalculating their paths in real time. By doing so, efficiency and safety are both maintained without the need for human intervention or the risk of compromising either priority.
This ability to dynamically adjust to changes within the environment underscores the key difference between AGVs and AMRs. While AGVs rely on rigid predefined routes that may become suboptimal or even hazardous when conditions change, AMRs employ advanced sensors, algorithms, and artificial intelligence to continuously evaluate and respond to their surroundings.
AMR robots have advanced pallet detection – increasing productivity
AMR Robots are far more adept than AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) in handling complex tasks like picking up pallets, especially in the domain of driverless forklifts where precision and adaptability are crucial. Having the AMR perform an independent pallet pick-up means that workers don’t have to interrupt their tasks to assist, creating a seamless flow in operations.
Even advanced AGVs have significant constraints on where pallets are located and positioned. Their rigid programming often requires exact placement. If the pallet is placed incorrectly, even slightly, it will frequently prevent the AGV from being able to engage the pallet. Then a human worker must intervene, leading to delays and inefficiency.
AMR robots, on the other hand, are equipped with computer vision, a technology that allows them to see and interpret the physical environment. They can recognize where the pallet is and adjust their approach accordingly, even if the pallet’s position isn’t exactly as prescribed. This ability yields massive efficiency improvements over AGVs.
Because the AMR robot can tolerate and compensate for slight inaccuracies in pallet placement, the collaboration between forklift drivers and the AMR robots is greatly enhanced. This not only accelerates the overall operation but also reduces the pressure on human workers to maintain absolute precision in their tasks.
Artificial intelligence means continuous improvement over time
AMR robots boast greater onboard AI than traditional and even advanced AGVs, a technological advancement that significantly enhances their functionality and adaptability. Being cloud-enabled, they not only offer an immediate boost in efficiency but also open up an entire spectrum of continuous improvement and performance/safety optimization capabilities. These features were previously unpractical or entirely unavailable with more traditional AGV robots.
As the warehouse environment changes, AMR robots have the remarkable potential to learn, adapt, and improve over time. This continuous evolution allows them to optimize their performance, thereby increasing their throughput and useful life. It goes beyond mere task execution, enabling a proactive response to emerging challenges and opportunities within the warehouse landscape.
This ongoing adaptability also translates into significant ROI gains. The investment in AMRs becomes not just a fixed asset but a dynamic component of the operation that grows in value with time. By leveraging cloud connectivity and advanced AI algorithms, AMR robots align with modern Industry 4.0 principles, allowing companies to stay ahead in the competitive market. They embody a futuristic approach to warehousing where automation is not stagnant but continually evolves, ensuring that businesses can meet the ever-changing demands with agility, innovation, and sustained efficiency. The integration of AMRs signifies a profound shift in the warehouse automation paradigm, heralding a new era where machines are intelligent partners rather than mere tools, maximizing both operational efficiency and long-term value.
If you’re ready to get started with an initial assessment, contact us to set up an appointment with a Vecna Robotics automation expert.