“Warehouse owners who are interested in using AMRs and want the proof-of-concept before making large scale investments in them or getting low-cost entry to robotic automation can work with suppliers that offer AMRs on Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) or on a lease basis.”
Rajabahadur V. Arcot
Senior Advisor and Consultant, Quadrant Knowledge Solutions
In our blog series on warehouse automation, AMR, and other warehouse execution systems, the first blog titled “The Dynamics of Autonomous Mobile Robots and its Business Imperatives” provides a detailed analysis of AMR from the perspective of people, processes, technologies, and strategies and on AMR market dynamics. In this blog, we bring significant perspectives on how AMRs are transforming warehouse operations and customer service excellence.
Warehouses, distribution centers, and such facilities (these terms are used interchangeably) have started uncovering opportunities to use AMRs to execute various low skill and hazardous tasks that are often performed by workers who could instead take on value-added tasks. There has always been a need to automate warehouse tasks with the help of robots and bring about operational transformation, but their fulfillment required robots with autonomous mobility abilities. With the arrival of these robots, those responsible for warehouses and other such facilities are rushing to invest in AMRs. This pent-up demand for robots, which can move independently without causing harm to the people working in the same area, is driving the growth of the AMR market. This trend is further aided by the growth of the e-commerce business and the unfortunate spread and prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suppliers are also doing their bit to attract users to adopt AMRs. Some of them are offering AMRs on a pay-as-you-use or lease basis. Companies that are interested in using AMRs and want the proof-of-concept before making large-scale investments in them or wish to get a low-cost entry to robotic automation, can work with suppliers that offer AMRs on Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) or on a lease basis. This would help companies avoid incurring capital expenditure and regular maintenance expenses.
Companies, especially those in e-commerce, logistics and retail operating large warehouses/distribution centers, can deploy AMRs to automate many of their warehouse operations, such as receiving/unloading, picking and stacking, storing, packing, dispatching/loading onto trucks or wagons, and for inventory management etc. AMR platforms provide the needed mobility, while their attachments or manipulators perform the desired tasks. AMR platforms will help companies achieve efficiency and productivity improvements, which will subsequently enhance their profitability and competitiveness through transformative improvements such as the following:
- Improves quality of work – Many of the operations performed in warehouses are routine in nature. People get tired of performing such repetitive tasks which makes AMRs the ideal choice for executing these. They also often lead to boredom among workers and as a consequence mistakes; they can be avoided with robots, improving the quality of work.
- Increases operational efficiency – When robots are used to perform routine chores, the relieved workers will be free to focus on more creative tasks. Making AMRs work alongside humans in a collaborative manner enables the warehouses and distribution centers to leverage the abilities of both humans and AMRs to the fullest potential. Therefore, the use of AMRs improves the operational efficiency of such facilities.
- Alleviates labor shortage challenges – Traditionally, most manual tasks in warehouses were performed by workers. The laborious and arduous nature of the work involved would discourage workers from signing up for these jobs, and this trend is not likely to change in the near future. Published sources indicate that workers in e-commerce warehouses, in one shift, walk more than 9 miles or spend many hours packing orders standing in one place. These sources also point out that the US Department of Labor numbers suggest that there are now multiple warehouse jobs per applicant. The use of AMRs will alleviate the labor shortage challenges faced by warehouses and significantly reduce labor costs. In addition, the use of robots working with humans is a more appealing prospect for job candidates.
- Improves Inventory Management – Owner-operators of warehouses need to track stock/inventory levels closely. This means, on the one hand, knowing what has been sold and what is available and, on the other hand, taking actions to ensure the physical availability of goods for timely order fulfillment. The traditional manual process can be dispensed with, and AMRs can be used instead. AMRs fitted with ultrahigh-frequency radio frequency identification (UHF RFID) modules can greatly improve the efficiency and accuracy of the inventory taken in comparison to the manual method.
- Helps Handle COVID-19-related Challenges – AMRs can also play an important role in alleviating the challenges arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Preventing the rapid spread of the disease necessitates disinfecting the premises periodically and minimizing the need for people to assemble together. AMRs can play useful roles in this regard.
- Improves Productivity and Throughput – AMRs, after they are commissioned and set up correctly, execute the assigned jobs consistently, speedily, and in an error-free manner. As a consequence, the productivity and throughput improves and the operational costs go down.
- Ensures Workplace Safety – Ensuring workplace safety is crucial. The safer the employees are at work, the more productive they become, and this results in a win-win situation for both the employers and the employees. AMRs are designed and engineered to ensure that they do not collide with obstacles or cause injury to the people in whose midst they are required to work. Plus, if they take on hazardous or strenuous tasks from workers, injury risk is minimized for workers, too.
The use of AMRs can transform warehouse operations and make them more efficient and productive. As a consequence of the transformation improvements achieved by deploying AMRs, owner-operators will achieve higher profits, cost reductions, better inventory management, order fulfillment, and enhanced workplace safety.
As part of the ongoing research, the Quadrant Knowledge Solutions analysts team is conducting detailed research on the market dynamics, vendor ecosystem, and solution provider landscape for AMR and warehouse execution systems. Stay tuned and watch this space for more insights by Quadrant Knowledge Solutions.