Dr. Paul Rivers is the CEO of Guidance Automation, which has over 25 years of experience developing advanced solutions for the global robotic vehicle market and has thousands of systems in service.
All manufacturing and logistics companies face the same pressures, regardless of size or longevity. Skyrocketing costs, supply chain disruption and shrinking workforces are creating unprecedented challenges. For large enterprises, the automation trend is well established: in 2018, the global logistics automation market was valued at $39.29 billion and is expected to grow to over $121.3 billion. by 2027. And it’s the demand for industrial robots that’s driving much of that growth.
However, too many small businesses still believe that automation is simply too big an investment, especially when faced with such increased operational costs. On top of soaring fuel and raw material costs, UK warehouses are paying up to 30% more to recruit staff, according to the UK Warehousing Association. As a result, few small businesses have the confidence to make a large capital investment, even as demand increases.
But automation doesn’t have to be expensive – and it doesn’t even have to be a capital investment.
While a complete end-to-end automation project will require time and commitment, one or two robots can be added to any warehouse or manufacturing business without the need for disruption or even IT integration. personalized. In a small-scale trial, a warehouse chose to download orders to a USB stick to provide the robot with a list of activities for the day. The robot works alongside existing employees, showing the business – and the workforce – how easy and intuitive the automation process can be.
Obviously, automation comes in many shapes and sizes. Within a warehouse operation, organizations can explore different techniques to improve picking performance and accuracy, such as light and voice-activated picking systems. In manufacturing, conveyors and scanners can help improve inventory management and improve productivity.
So where do AMRs fit in? Essentially, an AMR is a vehicle that uses on-board sensors and processors to autonomously move materials without the need for physical guides or markers. The main components of the AMR include a controller, a computing unit, a battery, motors, sensors, lights, sounds and a camera.
A simple trial of one or two AMRs is quick to deploy and practically answers many pressing automation questions, such as “How do robots work alongside humans?” », « Where can they be used? and “How often should they be recharged?”.
The workers quickly discover that the robots move at the same speed as a walking human. Lights flash when an AMR is about to move, and most have indicators to show if they’re turning left or right at the end of the driveway – which is more than you can get say for warehouse workers! Although the robots typically run for at least one full shift without needing to be recharged, they are programmed to return to the charging station before they run out of power. They are also programmed to complete the current task before doing so, to prevent vital goods from becoming stuck in the charging area, and will not start a new task without sufficient charge. More sophisticated programming can also use opportunistic charging – where the robot needs to stop for short periods during operations; therefore, adding a charger connection to this location allows the AMR to recharge its power.
Robots in practice
So where might a RAM perform best? Essentially, robots can minimize the time spent moving around the building, which is especially valuable in a warehouse environment. Staff can spend more time picking orders, simply taking the goods to the robot at the end of the aisle. The robot can then take a number of items to the next location, such as packaging. In a manufacturing environment, a robot could bring finished goods to stores or bring raw parts from stores – after they have been manually checked by a trained employee.
This approach allows the company to make the most of all resources: using people in their areas of expertise, such as precise and fast preparation and quality control, while using robots to perform tasks repetitive tasks, such as moving goods through the warehouse quickly and safely. .
For a first test, there is no need for direct integration into the computer system.
Low cost automation
Obviously, the more a business automates, the greater the efficiencies. But even the smallest automation will bring improvements. Adding a robot or two can allow a company to reallocate staff to more valuable areas and help reduce pressure on recruiting warehouse workers.
With a trust in the technology and a real understanding of automation in practice, it is much easier for a business to determine where and when automation might fit. And for companies still concerned about the level of investment, an increasing number of robots are now available for rent, or even by the hour.
The “robot as a service” concept is extremely compelling for industries, such as logistics and manufacturing, where peaks and troughs in demand are difficult to manage with a permanent workforce. With a few robots parked, charged and ready to go, a company can have 100% control over its costs, paying only for the hours used, but with the certainty that capacity is available to meet peaks in demand.
The key is to build that trust, embark on a small-scale trial, and understand how AMR works in any business, regardless of size, to create a successful and efficient hybrid workforce that may change depending on demand.