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In the new normal, finding new ways to increase the efficiency of warehouse operations is not just a matter of cost but of finding new room to grow. Warehouse automation is an obvious path to creating new growth capacity. However, each warehousing and logistics facility is unique, with its own complexities. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to warehouse automation, especially when it comes to material handling robotics solutions.
With so many types of warehouse automation solutions on the market, it is essential to understand how much flexibility you need from your warehouse automation robotics solution. Identifying your flexibility requirements can guide you in choosing the best fit for your operations.
The self-assessment checklist for picking the right automation solution
1. Do you have seasonal demand spikes or variability for different SKUs?
Demand variation requires adapting your workflows – including positions and routes – to adjust to the demand spikes.
What to look for here is a solution that offers the simplest scaling and system modification options. Relevant features here would include the set up how positions, routes, tasks, etc., are set up, as well as the level of integration with your enterprise software systems. Short time to productivity, little or no downtime and minimal infrastructure changes will all bring a better fit with your operations.
If you need flexibility here, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) might be the better solution since there’s no cost associated with changing the fixed guiding infrastructure that guided vehicles require.
2. Can you set up fenced-off areas off-limits to people and people-operated trucks?
If you need the entire facility to remain accessible, not all AGVs will be a good fit. You require a solution that can work safely around people and people-operated vehicles without causing disruption. Some AGVs and most autonomous mobile robot (AMR) solutions would fit the bill but with a varying degree of efficiency. The busier the environment, the more advanced technology you need.
If you can set up fenced-off areas off-limits to people, simpler automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can do the job. By setting up a fence, you reduce obstacles that stop guided vehicles. Also, the solution doesn’t need to be collaborative (designed to work safely around people and people operated machines).
3. Are you automating workflows in loading bays or other indoor spaces without shelving?
If you want to automate operations in loading bays – or any other space that don’t have fixed infrastructure – then you will have to pick one of the most advanced autonomous mobile robot solutions.
Only AMRs equipped with advanced robot vision (usually relying on AI) can navigate autonomously in open spaces without fixed infrastructure such as shelving. A simple AMR needs fixed points to localize itself, and it can’t do so in a loading bay where the only fixed points are the walls (usually beyond sensor range or hidden by cargo). An advanced AMR, using vision and AI, can navigate by using background.
Using automated guided vehicles may not be viable if you can’t avoid obstacles in their route.
4. How often do you place cargo on the floor awaiting put-away or dispatch?
5. Do you need to automate operations both indoors and outdoors?
If your answer is yes, then only advanced autonomous mobile robots, equipped with robot vision for all lighting conditions, can handle this. For busy outdoor spaces, AI-powered solutions provide the most flexibility.
The alternative could be using automated guided vehicles with a guidance system that can work both inside and outside. For AGVs, however, their routes still need to be kept clear of obstructions.
The importance of flexibility for warehouse automation
Do most of your replies in the self-assessment checklist point you toward a more flexible solution? If so, then an advanced autonomous mobile robot solution may be the best fit for your operations.
Robot vision and AI (including machine learning) are among the latest advances that bring new applications and use cases for autonomous mobile robots.
Thanks to our proprietary technology technology relying on 3D vision and AI, Gideon Brothers’ AMRs can automate some operations for the first time, such as trailer unloading operating both outdoors and indoors. Advanced AMRs are also more reliable and adapt better to unpredictable environments where people and goods constantly move about the facility.
Download our free guide to help you find the warehouse automation technology that best fits your material handling operations. Includes a handy self-assessment checklist and questions to ask your supplier.