AMRs (Autonomous Mobile Robots) provide warehouse operators with the tools they need to meet rising customer expectations and increasingly intensified competition with more speed and efficiency in their material handling. These intelligent machines support a wide range of applications in the modern warehouse and factory, including order picking, inventory management, and resupply requests. With an AMR fleet working alongside human operators on the floor, companies can maximize productivity while reducing errors – allowing their people to focus on higher-value tasks that drive real business results.
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) require some sort of infrastructure to know where they are. The infrastructure could be wires, stickers, reflectors, tape, or magnets, or a combination of these.
Modern AMR robots need no such infrastructure. They use natural landmarks like walls, pillars, or shelving to understand their location.
AMR robots store a map of the facility in their digital memory. And when one AMR robot knows the map, it can share it with other AMRs, making the addition of more robots easy and quick. If the facility changes, the map can be updated.
In contrast, if a warehouse operator wants to change the path of an AGV, physical changes to the wires, tape, or other infrastructure are needed. And those changes can take 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 AGVs need physical markers to tell them where they are, those markers also define the pathway they are to travel.
What happens if an AGV encounters a lot of traffic – or an obstacle like a stray pallet – on that pathway? Traditional AGVs will simply stop and wait until the obstruction goes away. When the obstacle is stationary, it means a human must come to the rescue and remove the impediment. Tending to the robot takes workers away from their assigned duties and diminishes the usefulness of the automated vehicle.
In contrast, AMR robots plot out their paths using their internally stored map. They will typically choose the shortest route. If an obstacle blocks their pathway, they are smart enough to tell if 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.
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 have safety zones. They need to be more than a minimum distance away from people or other vehicles before they operate at full speed. Traditional AGV vendors try to define routes that allow for this buffer.
Let’s say a loading dock was less well used when the AGV was installed, but the facility starts operating at a higher capacity, and some pallets start to be stored closer to the predefined AGV route. To optimize safety, most AGVs will slow down to a crawl when they pass these pallets, as their programmed safety zones demand. Travel times lengthen. If the operator decides to override the safety zone setting, it can become a significant safety risk.
AMR robots, on the other hand, can simply give these protruding pallets a wider berth. Efficiency and safety are both maintained.
AMR robots have advanced pallet detection – increasing productivity
AMR Robots are far more capable than AGVs in how they handle picking up pallets. In the category of driverless forklifts, clearly, this is extremely important. Having the AMR do an independent pallet pick-up means workers don’t have to stop what they’re doing and assist.
Even advanced AGVs have significant constraints on where pallets are located and positioned. If the pallet is placed incorrectly, even slightly, it will often prevent the AGV from being able to get the pallet. Then a human worker must intervene.
AMR robots, on the other hand, have computer vision. They can see where the pallet is and adjust their approach accordingly. This ability yields massive efficiency improvements over AGVs. Because the AMR robot can tolerate and compensate for slight inaccuracies, the collaboration between forklift drivers and the AMR robots is greatly enhanced, making everything function more quickly and smoothly.
Artificial intelligence means continuous improvement over time
AMR robots have greater onboard AI than traditional and even advanced AGVs. And being cloud-enabled, opens up an entire spectrum of continuous improvement and performance/safety optimization capabilities that, heretofore, have been unpractical with more traditional AGV robots. As the warehouse environment changes, AMR robots have the potential to improve over time thereby increasing their throughput and useful life, translating into significant ROI gains.
For more information on AMR robots and how they compare with traditional AGVs, consult our AMR vs. AGV webpage, or our whitepaper titled “Everything You Need to Know About AMR Navigation”.
If you’re ready to get started with an initial assessment, contact us to set up an appointment with a Vecna Robotics automation expert.