Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are changing the manufacturing landscape, setting new standards for expectations and deliverables. Whether the robot follows a fixed path or programmers operate it, these machines can stock shelves, send analytics and help keep lines running smoothly without human interference.
It sounds like science fiction, but it’s a necessary shift warehouses must employ to keep doors open, whether they stock foodstuffs or automotive parts. They offer too many benefits to ignore, and warehouses ignoring their advantages will swiftly lose competitive standing and potential stakeholder trust.
Gaps Are AGVs and AMRs Filling in Warehouses
Staffing shortages have pummeled supply chains and warehouses for years, but international conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated it. The complications caused by the vacancies get more complicated alongside high turnover rates and unreasonable shift schedules.
Thanks to Industry 4.0 standards and new tech, industry is shifting — and workforces are in-between skill sets. Tenure staff must adapt to internal changes and companies must find ways to change training regimens to prepare entrants to operate and repair new machinery more adequately. So, there are not enough people to do the work, and not enough people that are there are optimized.
While warehouses scramble with scarce staff, volume and demand continue to skyrocket along with the population and proliferation of online shopping. Supply chain shortages aren’t helping, either. B2B clients need more materials than ever, and B2C audiences want more products because of the efficacy of social media advertising and the ease of virtual storefronts. How could warehouses keep accurate inventory, store products efficiently or meet deadlines with everything working against them?
Luckily, AGVs and AMRs were a solution for all of these faults — albeit they’re expensive solutions.
Knowing how these machines bridge some struggles in the warehousing industry allows businesses to comprehend how they contribute to efficiency with clarity — instead of just supplementing a necessity.
Automation Allows Warehouses to Scale
Estimates suggest there will be 50,000 robotic warehouses with four million robotic installs across all warehouses by 2025. These numbers prove modern warehouse priorities — staffing up and meeting demand to stay profitable is key. The overarching objective is scalability.
Scaling is easier when AGVs and AMRs can contribute information to warehouse management systems (WMSs) to reanalyze storage methods and floorplans to optimize product care better. Reevaluating the physicality of the warehouses is another unexpected benefit of these robots. They can reveal design improvements to suit their travel paths for better efficiency and inform shelf design. How could a company better utilize space? Warehouse space is expensive, and insurance on top of it is even mostly, so every square foot matters.
Because warehouses could scale to optimize organizational space with these robots, order accuracy and speed increase as a result. These metrics are vital for expedient scaling because orders arrive at an unprecedented rate. Whether e-commerce or pharmaceutical, these robots could grab products and transport them to lines, transportation or packing with minimal interruptions. Engineers and programmers can pre-assign the most efficient pathway to maximize time and reduce obstacles.
Another scaling benefit is more of a global perspective. The data these machines gather is invaluable to the global warehousing industry. As they glean information from niches worldwide, technology becomes more adept at understanding trends and anomalies to tell the industry as a whole to be better — not just individual companies. Local warehouses in the western hemisphere need information from an unknown warehouse in a country thousands of miles away. Every byte of information allows the sector to grow collaboratively by understanding nuances in the business.
Machines Categorize Physically and Digitally
AGVs and AMRs could run night and day, cataloging shelves and updating inventory databases without the tedious, time-consuming cost of paying workers a salary. Situations like the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a need for versatile, persistent workers unaffected by external influence.
SKUs are getting more complicated as businesses increase product offerings, discontinue old items and manufacture variants of new and old stock. Trends change in a second because of social media trends, immediately invalidating the potential success of a product piled on shelves, now destined for dust. Companies may even forget these products take up space on shelves for months when the warehouse could repurpose them. These are only a few volatile influences that disrupt inventory, on top of human error.
AGVs and AMRs classify and place products, but they can also collect data with every scan to inform analytics for predictive analysis to avoid the aforementioned hiccups. These machines connect to Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices and sensors, revealing process improvements that companies would never have seen without robotic aid. Excess, unlucrative palettes full of stuff eventually disappear as companies receive more education from priceless data to never repeat those mistakes in the future.
Competitive Advantage Ups the Bottom Line
Shareholders for warehouses certainly had their worlds shaken by all the external influences attempting to dismantle the sector’s security. If veteran warehousing businesses don’t want to lose out on funding because venture capitalists find tech-forward startups more enticing, allocate monetary room for robots. Companies must reaffirm trust with their investors to solidify business resilience — and AGVs and AMRs have much to do with that.
Investors love robotic implementation in warehousing because it impacts other business branches. Fulfillment streamlines, budgets curate and labor costs decrease. Corporations that prove business savvy by leveraging AGVs and AMRs are keeping up with sector trends to stay relevant and becoming leaders by example.
That’s what investors want because more productive operations in warehouses mean productivity everywhere, equating to happy and repeat customers that signal a company’s longevity.
Using Machines to a Warehouse’s Advantage
AGVs and AMRs are more extra sets of robotic hands. Their technological capabilities allow them to improve warehouse operations dramatically, saving companies countless hours and dollars in wasted labor and product. Workforces will feel less stress and have more time open to learning new skills required for the Industry 4.0 warehouse of the future because of these robotic innovations.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine discussing the latest industry innovations and trends.