Many pitfalls exist for companies looking to introduce robots into their processes. One common pitfall is that potential automation customers may go into the experience thinking they know exactly what robots can do for them. These end users often expect suppliers to install the robots and then to be able to flip a switch to see results on Day 1, said experts at Vecna Robotics.
Not only is this not how typical robot deployments go, but it’s also not how they should go, they asserted. Vecna Robotics, a developer of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), recently hosted a webinar in its “Material Handling Automation Mythbusters series.”
During the webinar, Matt Cherewka, the director of product marketing at Vecna, and Josh Kivenko, chief marketing officer of Vecna, dispelled the myth that automation customers know exactly what robots can do for them.
End users should reset robotics expectations
One of the first mistakes that end users make when implementing robotics is not thinking big enough, according to Cherewka and Kivenko. Some users tend to focus too much on an individual project and meeting expected the return on investment in a short time.
While ROI is certainly an important factor, this mindset doesn’t grasp the true benefits of automation, said the Vecna executives.
While many end users seek materials handling automation to reduce labor costs in the short term, the most successful performers with robotics, such as FedEx, Tesla, and Amazon, take a different approach. These companies are interested in using automation to help grow their business, not to cut costs.
“Automation really is more about the journey than it is the individual project or the first step there,” Cherewka said. “And people who are actually seeing the benefits of automation and are leaders in the space really get that. So, as opposed to getting super-laser-focused on individual projects, this is a long-term initiative for them.”
For example, Amazon has deployed thousands of different robots in its warehouses. At the same time, the company is constantly hiring, so it’s not using its robots to get rid of workers.
In an increasingly automated world, those who want to keep up understand that automation is essential to thriving. Robotics can provide users with a differentiator in the long term, said the Vecna speakers.
“That’s the whole point of automation. It’s a competitive advantage,” Kivenko said. “It’s about growing your business.”
Let robots do what they’re best at, says Vecna
Some end users approach robotic automation the same way they might approach implementing a conveyor belt or other piece of equipment. They might spend months and millions of dollars on a custom system that seems perfectly fit to a particular process, and then sit back and wait for the robot to pay for itself, according to Vecna Robotics.
“We can know exactly how we want to use material handling automation and have the best-laid plan, the best partner, the best technology,” Kivenko said. “But there are bumps and bruises along the way.”
“The whole point of this next generation of flexible automation is that it adapts and improves over time,” Cherewka said. “It is not a fixed mechanical system. It is a software-driven system that can be reconfigured and uses AI to get better.”
This means that things won’t go perfectly right away. But over time, robots can produce results even better than a supply chain or manufacturing user’s original goals. It’s important for them to keep this in mind once they’ve started implementing robotics, according to Vecna.
“[Robotics automation] is really about changing the way your supply chain is going to operate,” Kivenko said. “Does anybody actually compare the ROI of implementing a WMS versus just running things by paper? No, of course not; that would be absurd. But a lot of people still think about buying robots the way they think about buying a lift truck.”
Kivenko said that implementing automation is about changing that calculation and thinking less about saving money, but more about making operations more resilient and future-proof.