The market for autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, grew by 33% in 2022, according to Interact Analysis. The firm predicted that it could grow by more than 30% in 2024. As more manufacturers begin adopting AMRs, it’s important for them to understand how to best prepare for success.
Most manufacturers start their automation journey with a pilot deployment. OTTO Motors recently held a webinar called “Beyond the Pilot: 5 Principles for Growing your AMR Footprint,” hosted by Graham Davis, a product enablement manager at the mobile robot provider.
Davis shared his insights about the importance of pilot deployments, what to look for during those deployments, and what to consider for long-term success.
With change comes challenges, says Davis
At the webinar’s start, Davis touched on some of the challenges you should expect when implementing any new technology in your existing operations. There are always people who are hesitant when it comes to change, so it’s important to be able to answer common questions employees have.
“The common theme across any of these projects that you’re undertaking is that there will be reluctance to change, and you need to pay close attention to communicating that change well,” said Davis.
Some employees might have concerns about how difficult it will be to learn and use the robots, how safe they are, or how AMRs will change their roles. Others might have concerns about their effectiveness.
“There’s also the skepticism that can creep in of making sure that the value of the new technology goes beyond its newness,” Davis said. “That it is actually delivering on the promises that you make when scoping out the concept or growing beyond that first pilot.”
Davis noted that it’s important for those adopting automation to effectively communicate the benefits of automation. Robots can come with lower costs, improved safety, and a reallocation of scarce labor to higher-value work, he asserted.
When everyone is on board with a pilot deployment and understands how it will impact their work, it has a better chance of succeeding, said Davis.
Prioritize safety and security, says OTTO Motors
When implementing any new technology, safety has to be your No. 1 priority. When evaluating a system for its safety, Davis said, you need to ask yourself if the system can maintain safety without compromising too much on productivity.
Davis says it’s important to remember that the latest innovations often outpace the latest standards. Despite this, standards can still be a good way to help you understand what kinds of risks you want to mitigate.
While your site may have unique safety challenges, you can use existing standards to understand the root of the safety issue, and how those issues are typically resolved.
“[Standards] give you that shared point of reference for making comparisons between vendors or for unpacking some of the considerations when designing autonomous systems,” Davis said.
Security is also a crucial aspect when evaluating automation. When you start to add robots to your operations, you’ll see a drastic increase in the number of machines communicating with one another.
One of the benefits of robotics is that you can begin getting detailed metrics about your operations, but this means that cybersecurity is even more important.
“A lot of the IT and information security questions do arise from making sure this middle ground of sending data across the internet is done in a very regulated and standardized way,” Davis said.
To ensure cybersecurity, Davis said that your automation supplier and your IT team need to work together from the start to set up effective communication protocols.
Design for scale, capacity, and connectivity
When designing your AMR pilot deployment, it’s important to keep your long-term plans in mind. While it may take time for you to scale to dozens, or even hundreds, of robots, it’ll be much easier to scale when you design for it from the start, Davis said.
One of the benefits of using robots is that they can work for hours without taking any breaks. So, during your pilot, you need to ensure the AMRs can maximize uptime as much as possible. This means considering how system failures could affect each other as you add more robots.
You can avoid this by ensuring your systems have high dimensions of parallelism, Davis said. This means that if one robot in the system breaks down, other AMRs can pick up the slack and keep things running smoothly.
In a similar vein, when you add more mobile platforms to your operation as you grow, you’re much more likely to come across holes in the design of your material handling system or interconnectivity.
Davis says that during a pilot, it can be good to try to emulate a larger number of workflows that is similar to what a scaled-up version of your deployment would look like. This way, you can run across issues that will pop up later down the line, and fix them before they become problems. Simulations and reference deployments can be good tools for this kind of testing.