Supply Chain

Logistics' highest potentials: How AMR help

Nishan Wijemanne, Global Leader AMR & Robotics, Körber Business Area Supply Chain

Warehouse automation is the biggest trend in logistics. The latest generation of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) take flexibility, efficiency and safety to a new level. 

It’s a perfectly normal Sunday night in the warehouse of a logistics company in Sydney, Australia. Small, agile robots maneuver through the aisles like rolling saucers, independently scanning the carton labels of fashion goods, lifting the cartons from the pallets on their own and transporting them quickly, independently and incessantly to the appropriate compartments in the shipping area. It's a busy time, but as if by magic, the robots always circle around each other at a safe distance and adjust their route seemingly of their own accord.

What only a short time ago sounded like the plot of science fiction novels is now part of everyday working life at numerous logistics locations around the world. In recent years, AMRs have evolved from elite future solutions to flexible business solutions for warehouse automation – and are thus reinforcing the global trend toward digital workflow along the entire supply chain. Intralogistics is particularly in focus: In Warehouse 4.0, numerous AI tools are already being used today for process optimization. These range from smart glasses for order picking, to special warehouse apps for inventory or defect detection. The AMR market is particularly booming: According to the "Autonomous Mobile Robots Market Research Report 2020", the AMR industry already turned over $29.3 billion– in 2030, the sum is expected to increase almost tenfold to $220 billion. The e-commerce boom, accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a key contributor to this growth, flanked by technological innovations in artificial intelligence and rising demand in supply chain flexibility. And the cost and security potential is enormous.

Close cooperation – warehouse worker and AMR in a Körber-designed automation solution

The latest quantum leap is the move from automated guided vehicles (AGVs), which have been used in warehouse management for decades, to self-steering and self-thinking AMRs - in other words, from automatic to autonomous systems, or from greater efficiency to greater flexibility. AMRs are mostly equipped with laser sensors and video cameras that constantly match their current environment with their task as well as the warehouse's map. "Thanks to artificial intelligence, the AMRs independently recognize whether an obstacle is permanent or temporary," explains Nishan Wijemanne, Global Leader AMR & Robotics, Körber Business Area Supply Chain. "For example, they can switch to other routes, while conventional AGVs have to wait for an obstacle to disappear." 

Flexible, fast and scalable

The other advantages: AMRs can be deployed in tight spaces to save space and costs. They work at any time of the day or night without a break – even in refrigerated warehouses. And because routes and areas of operation do not have to be defined in advance, AMRs can be deployed much more flexibly and quickly than AGVs and can be scaled as required – a huge advantage for dynamic business areas such as logistics service providers (3PL) and high growth eCommerce and retail clients. "The more they are connected to the Warehouse Operation, the more they can serve as a data source for process optimization", says Wijemanne.

AMRs are by no means replacing AGVs at all levels, but rather are the perfect complement. Self-propelled vehicles can handle significantly heavier weights and are still superior for heavy-duty transport at constant operation, for example in the automotive industry. AMRs, on the other hand, are suitable for transporting lighter loads (crates and smaller pallets) in a variety of ways – for example, in order picking as mobile assistants for warehouse workers, in the shelf-to-person and person-to-shelf process. Or in parcel sortation as intelligent transfer means for the shipping area.

"The challenge for companies today is primarily to develop deployment solutions that are as flexible as possible and to integrate them optimally into their sites and systems", says Wijemanne. With its many years of expertise and proven partners, Körber is one of the leading providers of customized AMR architecture in this area in the three main markets of North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Through global partnerships with leading robot manufacturers, the Körber Group's portfolio is scalable to complex warehouse systems of almost any type as needed. 

Warehouse workers must be part of the solution

Körber's offerings range from comprehensive on-site operational review, process analysis, solution and process design, and robot configuration to commissioning, change management, staff training, and ongoing support. "In solution design, we work very closely with warehouse workers – they have to be part of the solution and happy to work with it. AMR cannot succeed without them or against them," says Wijemanne. Showing the benefits to the workforce is also part of his job. "Robots take repetitive/mundane tasks away from workers and significantly reduce the risk of accidents in the workplace," Wijemanne says. "Warehouse jobs are by no means eliminated, but shift toward order processing, value added tasks, operation and supervision."

Körber's AMR customers today include Europe's leading drugstore chain dm, Swiss logistics service provider CEVA, Australian food distributor Galipo, Australian marketplace, and U.S. retailer evo. For the future, Wijemanne expects continued growth in eCommerce, Retail and particular growth in the food and beverage industry, whose online trade doubled its volume to nearly $4.9 billion in the pandemic year 2020 alone. And the robots themselves? "Given the pace of research in AI and ML (Machine Learning), they're going to get a lot smarter very fast. Quick software progress will have a growing impact on the success of a solution", says Nishan Wijemanne. "Technologically, we are still in our infancy here."

Want to learn more about robotic solutions from Körber?

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