AMR: the autonomous robot in the warehouse next to the employee

In warehouses, optimizations for more efficient and faster work are often welcome. This can be done by refining existing work processes or replacing used tools, but also by using modern robots if this has not already been done. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are trying to set a standard in this field by being better than the more familiar Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). We visited Zebra Technologies to get a little more insight into the warehouse worker’s handy little helper.

Not everyone will immediately see the battle between Zebra Technologies and robots. After all, the company is known to many for scanners and mobile computers. However, the goal of all Zebra technology is to support frontline workers, including in the warehouse. In order to offer more in these environments than the software and equipment that Zebra Technologies already had, Fetch Robotics was acquired in the summer of 2021. Thus, it added several AMRs to the product range to further automate warehouses. This is by letting robots take over tasks that employees are not really waiting for. The idea is that this will get the best out of the employees.

From AGVs to AMRs

Autonomous mobile robots are different from the automatic guided vehicles. In many cases, this last category of machines is already in stock. AGVs can be used like AMRs to move goods. What an AGV does differently is that it follows a configured route for which it uses, for example, wires. This is the ‘guided’ part of the machine. It is guided in the execution of the tasks. As a result, they can only follow the configured route. Of course, if there are no obstacles, it works fine.

However, AMRs are smarter than AGVs. These robots have a map of the warehouse where they are active. When they have instructions to deliver goods at a specific time, they decide the best route for themselves. A possible obstacle does not cause the robot to come to a complete standstill to wait for the obstacle to move. They navigate around a moving or stationary object to reach the end point. If necessary, they can take a long detour between other proposals. AMR will use allow zones and no-go zones if they are set correctly in advance.

Thus, in principle, we have tackled the fundamental difference between AGVs and AMR. However, the robots we see show how the employees at the Zebra warehouse handle the machines. They find it all quite simple. When they want to use AMR to move goods, they can easily give the instructions. Zebra Technologies will no doubt insist on using its own technology extensively and properly in its own warehouse, but this shows that AMRs are robots that a large group of employees can handle.

Make work more comfortable

According to Marcel Kars, VP Robotics Automation at Zebra Technologies, you can ultimately achieve many benefits with AMRs in a warehouse. He mentions as an example that an employee in a small automated warehouse can safely walk 15 kilometers a day, sometimes carrying heavy objects for a large part of the time. This can be physically demanding, but it can also take a lot of time. If you can largely automate it with robots, Zebra Technologies will see a happier employee emerge. The employee can concentrate more on primary tasks. Or the more valuable tasks, as Zebra Technologies describes them. Think about repairing and replacing damaged packaging and products. People are still needed for such tasks. Currently, as far as we can see, there are no full-fledged robots for such valuable tasks.

So what Zebra Technologies is trying to do with the Fetch Robotics machines it bought is take over work that robots can do. According to Kars, this also eliminates some errors as the robots perform repetitive work flawlessly. The theory is that workers are prone to failure in repetitive tasks. Eliminating errors in combination with saving time and allowing employees to perform more attractive tasks makes the investment a no-brainer in Kars’ view.

Set the environment step by step

Kars indicates that warehouses can confidently roll out robots step by step, becoming more efficient each time. For example, they can start with a small robot with a runway for transport tasks. Such a robot can be used for loading and unloading and help with rush orders. In the end, this could make companies enthusiastic and possibly an incentive to buy other robots. Zebra Technologies also has AMRs that can be used to move racks or very heavy pallets. The image below gives an idea of ​​the different Fetch Robotics AMRs.

The robots above show the different uses of AMRs. According to Zebra Technologies, you’ll really see more efficiency on the bottom line by making them part of your existing ‘intelligent automation’ investments. The company sees an advantage in this by coupling it with the more traditional Zebra tools. For example, handheld scanners and tablets ensure that stocks in the warehouse are visible to simplify management. By connecting AMRs to that information and connecting the information from AMRs to traditional Zebra tools, some additional visibility can be created and automation can be achieved.

After the acquisition of Fetch Robotics, we have already spoken with Zebra Technologies about how the robots work. In it, we went a little further into the integration and collaboration of robots with other components, such as a Warehouse Management System (WMS). If you would like to know more about this, we would like to refer you to the previous article.

More effective through AMRs

It should be clear that AMRs are intended to be a useful aid to the warehouse worker. With current market conditions, such as labor shortages and a shaky supply chain, the extra help is a good investment as far as Zebra Technologies is concerned. However, even when such problems disappear, AMRs can achieve a desired efficiency gain. There is no need to fear that they will completely automate warehouse work, because people will still be needed for high-value tasks. It’s a combination of people and technology that the world is really waiting for for added efficiency, according to Zebra Technologies.

Tip: Zebra brings visibility and mobility to the on-demand economy

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