5 New Reasons why AMRs are ready for Prime Time
We asked a cross-section of industry influencers, practitioners and executives the question: “What are the barriers to adopting Autonomous Robotic workflows in fulfillment?” and got some fascinating answers. That input helped us create a white paper titled The Amazon Effect & Robotics Adoption in Fulfillment that reveals five perceived barriers that may be keeping you from revolutionizing your fulfillment operations using autonomous mobile robots, along with some insider recommendations on how to mitigate those barriers.
First off, let’s quickly review the value that can be generated by AMRs—robots that work independently of both people and orders:
- 50% increase in worker efficiency compared to current throughput of cart picking or pick-to-belt scenarios
- Pick rate increase of more than 3x when 100% independent robots work with pickers
- Fewer “human touches” results in dramatic increase in picking accuracy and order quality
- Payback in under 12 months
Given these compelling points, it’s no wonder there’s a wave of interest in robotic piece picking. But if you haven’t yet moved from interest to action, it might be due to one of these five common misperceptions:
- Robot technology is risky and unproven at scale
It often takes influential “first movers” to demonstrate the real results that get the rest of the industry going. Of course, distribution centers have been adopting automation and robotics since the invention of the assembly line. Our research shows that a good first step step is to initiate small scale AMR deployments that demonstrate efficacy, then scale up. Happily, AMRs are extremely cost-effective and easy to add incrementally. They can be rolled out with very little impact on existing infrastructure. Companies may start with a small product category or a selected area of the warehouse then scale by phasing in more robots.
- Robot-based solutions are expensive
What we found was implementing an AMR solution does not trigger expensive infrastructure reconfigurations, physical plant remodeling, worker retraining, and system integration fees. Instead, labor efficiency drives ROIs that can be measured in months, not years. The cost of AMR is a fraction of the cost of alternative approaches such as, conveyors, and fixed automation. Robots and pickers can work side by side, allowing existing (brown-field) DCs to be quickly and easily retrofitted with no disruption in daily output. The DC can keep fulfilling the core business as AMRs are added, something not possible with conveyor or other fixed automation conversions.
- The software hasn’t kept up with robotic hardware
Our conversations revealed that initially, vendors provided robot hardware that required extensive custom software programming to integrate with existing warehouse and order management systems. But today’s next-generation AMR technology optimizes the entire workflow by managing orders, workers and robots independently for the highest level of benefit. Because of advances in the maturity of the solutions, today’s robust, mature, comprehensive software-hardware systems integrate more easily with base systems, are easier to administer, and manage.
- Integration to current systems is difficult and risky
Our interviews revealed that some warehouse and fulfillment teams fear that their existing systems will have to be modified to meet the robots’ requirements. This is an understandable fear, but today’s robotic solutions come coupled with a mature software system. The WMS (or equivalent) sends orders and the robotic system sends back completions. To the WMS, the AMR software is just another picker to send orders to, and that picker sends a notification back when the product has been picked.
- Cultural change is a big organizational risk (workers will reject them)
In our experience, AMR technology is a major job satisfaction improver that dramatically reduces stress and physical strain on workers, while raising accuracy. This leads directly to better worker retention.
For some, there is a perception that employees and management are predisposed not to embrace robotics as a worker-friendly productivity booster. The managers we spoke to praise robotic workflows as a way to retain core workers while relying less on temporary and flex help. Reducing touches and the human mistake rates that are inherent to manual systems results in higher productivity, process quality, and fewer unhappy customers. Win-win.
In an era dominated by growing ecommerce demands and shortages of labor, workflows must be transformed. The more execs we talk to, the more we find who consider autonomous mobile robots to be the most significant replenishment power-up available to warehouse teams today. When robots work completely untethered from workers and are independent from the orders being picked, each element can be scheduled and optimized specifically. This is only possible with robots that can pick up and place containers without any worker intervention.
We’ve found that the most common barriers to AMR adoption are largely based on misperceptions that are easily swept aside. Early adopters are finding out how little real risk is involved in adopting game-changing AMR automation. For more about overcoming these five “barriers,” read our whitepaper.