Robots are to Warehouses as Zoom is to Office Meetings. Covid accelerated both the shift to remote work for office work and the shift to robotics for warehouse work. Robots don’t need social distancing protocols, can’t get sick or spread a virus, and certainly don’t have to home school their kids.
If you’re not yet familiar with the term AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robot), you will be soon. If you have a distribution business and have not yet embraced this technology, you are behind the curve.
AMRs have arrived and are operating in your local warehouses. Certainly, they are operating in Amazon’s warehouses. They’re transforming the time and motion activities of warehouse management. AMRs use LiDAR to compare what it “sees” to a very precise map of the warehouse. They can efficiently deliver products to and from wherever they are needed on demand. Google also has a robotics division focused on warehouse workflow.
The focus on most AMR implementation at this point is on simply assisting humans. A logical first step for companies that are hand picking products is a robot that moves carts from the pickers to the loading dock. This allows the pickers to focus on high value tasks and the AMR to handle the more time consuming transport down long isles. Fetch Robotics is a leader in this technology and offers units that can pick up and move anything from a small cart to a full pallet of product.
Currently, most AMR’s are simply transporting products from the receiving area to storage or from picker to shipping. The next evolution will be integration of AMR strategy into warehouse design. Remember: You rent warehouse space by the square foot but use it by the cubic foot.
AMR’s need less space to maneuver and they can communicate with each other, optimizing order completion and isle traffic patterns and causing a re-think of pick zones and product placement.
You don’t need to fully integrate AMRs into your facility today. You can be sure, however, that any new warehouse that you lease today will have AMRs in it before that lease expires. Smart companies are preparing now for that future.