While implementing an AMR fleet into intralogistics applications may sound simple, there is a lot that goes into it and many factors to consider. Today we look at 5 key questions to have answers for, and why they’re important when searching for an AMR for your application.
1. What type of payload will be transported?
This question goes beyond simply what product is being moved. Take it a step further and document details like how it is packaged for transport, what its shape is, how much it weighs, what the dimensions are, etc. Pallets of square boxed product? Long tubular packs? Open, shrink-wrapped product?
Details like these are critical factors for application engineers to determine if the payload can be safely transported with an AMR, what type of AMR is ideal for this application, payload requirements and more. In addition, depending on the type of AMR, payload information will reveal necessary changes to the current infrastructure. For example, an under-rider AMR, which travels underneath the payload to pick it up and transport it, might need additional infrastructure if the payload comes directly off a conveyor for transport.
Get specific. Document every detail about what needs to be moved and how it was moved in the past, and you’re one step closer to setting yourself up for a successful AMR search and implementation.
2. Where will the AMRs need to travel to complete a workflow?
Going from Point A to Point B is slightly more complex when it’s an AMR. Especially given factors like frequency of moves, distance, shift models, pick up and drop off locations and potential obstacles in an ever-changing intralogistics environment.
Starting with return on investment (ROI), which is one of the primary drivers of AMR implementation, the distance traveled helps calculate the time saved by eliminating manual intervention. Because, if an AMR isn’t moving it, something else or someone has to do it. That takes time out of value-add work that human workers could do, while also increasing the risk of workplace injury with moving heavy items, driving industrial vehicles or doing repetitive tasks. Details like how shifts are scheduled can also contribute to total ROI, with more shifts in a workday yielding an even greater ROI due to time saved with an AMR fleet.
The distance and frequency of moves also dictate the cost of alternative movement methods (manual, forklift, etc.). Savings can be achieved by eliminating the cost of those methods and replacing them with an AMR fleet that can operate 24/7, reducing turnover and training costs and increasing throughput.
On the practical side, the production rate helps application personnel determine the required fleet size. This calculation considers how fast the AMR moves, how far it must travel (distance), how many trips per hour it can take (frequency) and other environmental factors that ultimately add up to the number of AMRs required for the task.
3. How will workflows be triggered?
Something must signal the AMRs to execute a workflow – is that manual or automated infrastructure in place? If yes, what is that trigger? An operator pressing a button or using a tablet or laptop? Or automated via a PLC or upstream system like a WMS, ERP or MES?
If no, what needs to be added to the infrastructure to accommodate the AMRs? For example, you could have a photo eye that, when a pallet is in a position, calls the AMR over to pick it up. Or maybe it’s an area scanner, and when a pedestrian or other vehicle is in that area, it tells the AMR to not travel through that area until it is clear. An automation platform, such as ctrlX AUTOMATION, can also be integrated to trigger workflows with the AMRs.
4. What type of environment will the AMRs navigate in?
The environment is perhaps one of the more critical factors when deciding on and implementing AMRs. What is the condition of the floor? Is there a lot of foot or vehicle traffic in the AMR’s path? How wide are the aisles? Will it have to enter specialized areas, like a clean room or cold storage? Information like the above helps determine if the environment is suitable for an AMR and, if so, what type of AMR will best fit that application and meet the requirements of the space.
Another factor is how dynamic the environment is. This means: how often does the environment change? Most AMRs use SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) navigation, which utilizes landmarks, or fixed structures, in the environment to navigate autonomously. In an ever-changing environment, this can complicate which landmarks the AMR may try to use for navigation. While every AMR vendor will have its own SLAM algorithm, Bosch Rexroth’s proprietary SLAM navigation software, Locator, enables automatic updates to its digital map in real-time, making dynamic environments easier for the AMR to navigate.
Also, depending on the environment, the ability of an AMR to utilize hybrid navigation, such as Bosch Rexroth’s MP1000R, may become critical for success. The MP1000R’s hybrid navigation capabilities can utilize a combination of QR codes, SLAM and reflectors — giving users the flexibility to choose the right navigation techniques to ensure accurate localization and consistent performance of the bot in almost any environment. For example, QR codes can be used in wide-open spaces or at pick-up and drop-off locations to increase accuracy, while SLAM can be supplemented with a few well-placed reflectors in exceptionally challenging environments with very high change rates.
5. Is your team ready for AMRs?
Last but certainly not least: is your operations prepared for implementing AMRs? This question stands out from the other four in that it’s more culture focused than technical. However, in our experience, it’s equally critical.
For AMRs to be effective, procedural change needs to happen. Establishing an internal champion for AMR implementation, who oversees the process, engages with potential users and drives change management, has been a consistent factor in seamless implementations.
Implementing AMRs isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Numerous environmental, cultural and technical factors go into setting up a fleet that is tailor-made for a company’s unique application. Don’t move into the next phase of factory automation with AMRs alone. Partner with a vendor who will support at every step with the technical expertise and industry knowledge to help ensure a successful AMR implementation.
About the author
Bill Hyland is Mobile Robotics and Cobot Applications Engineering Lead at Bosch Rexroth.