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The Dynamics of Autonomous Mobile Robots and its Business Imperatives

By Divya Baranawal, Research Director & Principal Analyst and Akshaysingh Chandel, Supply Chain & Retail Analyst at Quadrant Knowledge Solutions

Factors such as growing e-commerce, omnichannel strategies, and rising spending capabilities are increasingly changing the meaning of customer experience across geographical regions. Beyond product price and features, the customer service experience is increasingly becoming the true differentiator for global retailers. Growing popularity of same-day or next-day delivery is further adding complexities for retailers to drive growth and improve the customer experience. Therefore, e-commerce and retail organizations are increasingly looking at building efficient, flexible, and automated supply chain processes to satisfy ever-increasing customer expectations. Adoption of warehouse automation technologies to enable faster, efficient, and dynamic order fulfilment is amongst the primary targets for automating supply chain operations.


Traditional heavier mechanized automation systems deployment was limited to large warehouses and often associated with significant upfront investments and more extended payback time. Advancements in robotics technology have led to the emergence of affordable robotics and automation systems, such as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). These can – of course – also be combined with traditional (fixed) automation equipment that may already be in place.


AMRs are equipped with an array of sophisticated sensors and embedded intelligence to interpret and understand their surrounding environment, navigate through various obstructions, automatically determine an optimum route to accomplish tasks and work collaboratively with operators for performing a range of operations, including order picking, sorting, and other material movements within the warehouse. AMRs may include sensors for mapping, navigation, localization, computer vision, 3D cameras, and other environmental sensors. Most AMRs use LiDAR sensors for dynamic navigation, avoiding various fixed and moving obstructions. AMR navigation within a specific warehouse environment is often achieved by building comprehensive maps either developed by the AMR itself or by uploading prebuilt warehouse maps into the AMR system.


Leading AMR vendors leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms for real-time decision-making on path optimization, improved object recognition, and enhanced collision avoidance with people and other fixed and moving objects within the operating environment. The AMR system often integrates with other mobile robots, warehouse control systems (WCS), warehouse management systems (WMS), and other warehouse execution systems for tracking, monitoring, governance, and control functions. Depending on the vendors, AMRs may also include fleet management capabilities to organize, manage, and orchestrate the movement of the fleet of AMRs to avoid collision with other vehicles, people and other objects.


Some of the market forces contributing to the growing adoption of AMRs for order fulfilment:


  • Growing Order Complexities and Shrinking Order Cycle Time: Global growth of e-commerce and omnichannel fulfillment is driving the requirements for mass-customization with the increasing volume of individual orders with tight delivery schedules. The success of an omnichannel strategy requires a greater emphasis on inventory visibility and optimization of end-to-end supply chain execution processes to improve service levels and optimize fulfillment time across channels. The warehouse operations demand for a higher level of responsiveness and adaptable and flexible fulfillment operations to meet increasingly demanding customer expectations.


  • Growing Emphasis on Customer Experience: Traditional automation systems and manual methods of managing warehousing operations are no longer sufficient to address today's complex and dynamic business environment with customer experience being central to business success outcomes. Customer expectations are rising significantly with an increasing emphasis on personalized and consistent experience across sales channels. Growing global competitions are further adding to the challenges with a substantially higher customer churn rate because of bad customer experience. Organizations are increasingly adopting/upgrading various supply chain technologies to optimize end-to-end supply chain and warehouse operations and boost their capabilities to improve overall customer experience. AMRs are increasingly becoming popular for optimizing fulfillment operations as well as for various smart warehouse applications.


  • Ever-Increasing Workforce Challenges: Omnichannel fulfillment requires significant labor resources if the warehouse and distribution centers are not equipped with advanced automation systems to support operational complexities. The challenges of attracting and retaining a qualified workforce remain an age-long industry issue and are expected to rise even further. The ever-growing transaction volumes and order complexities are significantly adding labor challenges and are driving industries towards increasing use of automation.


According to Quadrant Knowledge Solutions, the global AMR market is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 62.5% from 2020-2025. The global AMR market is expected to be valued at $15 billion by 2025.


Driven by the exponential growth opportunities, several new entrants are emerging in the AMR market with regional-specific market focus and use case specific robot offerings. Additionally, leading warehouse execution systems leaders, like Körber, are significantly investing in developing end-to-end AMR consulting implementation services. As part of Körber’s robotics solution, the company has made several strategic partnerships with a variety of AMR vendors to cater to a wide range of use cases. The company is building a robust service team for providing end-to-end services, including consulting, sales, implementation, integration, application development, and training & support services.


As part of the ongoing research, Quadrant Knowledge Solutions’ team of analysts is conducting detailed research on the market dynamics, vendor ecosystem, and solution provider landscape for AMRs and warehouse execution systems. Stay tuned and watch this space for more insights by Quadrant Knowledge Solutions.  


Watch the video on Quadrant Knowledge Solutions' Knowledge Brief below and download the Knowledge Brief here.

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