How can collaborative AMRs improve your internal logistics?
When thinking about collaborative robots, the type of robots that often come to mind are collaborative robot arms. These were the first types of collaborative robots (cobots) and they have been adopted widely throughout different industries worldwide the last 10 years. But while these cobot arms have played an important part in automating manufacturing processes while working safely with people, collaborative autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) have also entered manufacturing plants and warehouses to optimize internal logistics. In fact, this new technology is being adopted very fast throughout different industries and according to a new report conducted by Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR), 78% of companies find it realistic to integrate collaborative AMRs into their internal logistics within 1-2 years.
There is considerable variance in the types of different AMRs, and the level of contact between the AMR and its human coworker. Some AMRs work in “dark warehouses” or in protected manufacturing environments without the involvement of people and are not considered collaborative, while others share workspace and collaborate with people, such as the robots from MiR. The more interaction and collaboration with humans, the higher need for safety features and functional safety to ensure a safe collaboration. Collaborative AMRs are designed specifically to perform tasks in collaboration with humans or share workspace with humans without any external safety measures, such as fences or barriers. These AMRs are designed with a variety of technical features that ensure that they safety navigate around humans or other obstacles that are in the AMR’s path. These features include laser scanners, 3D cameras, and sophisticated software. Learn more about AMR safety.
Types of human-AMR collaboration
Human-AMR collaboration can range from no direct human-robot contact to shared workspace to a robot that gets orders from a human in a shared workspace or communicates with the worker. As soon as the collaborative AMRs share workspaces with humans, the importance of having the relevant features and safety functions increases.
Currently, most MiR applications are shared workspace applications where robot and employee work alongside each other, completing tasks sequentially or where the robot receives orders from the human worker to e.g. pick up or deliver goods. The robot does the material handling, while the worker is at a working station, but they work and move in the same area. There is a tendency of increased collaboration between the collaborative AMRs and workers, with more focus on responsive collaboration, with e.g. follow-me functions where the robot follows the worker in picking situations or with directed picking, where the AMR guides the worker on where to go. These applications are typical warehouse and e-commerce applications.
Benefits of collaborative AMRs
Collaborative AMRs provide an economically viable entry-point to logistics automation. They can be used to automate many aspects of the internal transportation in production and warehouse environments with minimal changes to the layout, providing companies that have not yet automated the material handling an entry to the productivity and efficiency offered by AMRs. Due to the autonomous navigation, collaborative applications enable companies to automate parts of the internal transportation in a flexible way, which has not been possible until the introduction of this technology.
Many companies have already automated their manufacturing processes, and the additional use of collaborative AMRs will not only optimize the internal logistics workflows but also support the work environment by taking over heavy lifting and help the workers save many steps a day, and thereby reduce the risk of workplace injuries. At the same time these AMRs increases workforce safety. According to MiR’s report, 72% see collisions and accidents as a top business challenge. With safe navigation collaborative AMRs constitute a safe alternative to vehicles for internal transportation, such as forklifts that traditionally cause many accidents.
In the past, the setup of robot systems and other logistics systems has been a long process that required system integrators every time something needed to be changed. This is time consuming and expensive for dynamic companies that often change processes and layouts. Collaborative AMRs such as the MiR robots have programming interfaces that are intuitive, and the robots can be programmed with little or no programming experience. Systems integration experts are still needed for complex applications, but for simpler applications, workers with minimal robot training can now easily re-deploy the robot to a new task. This is particularly important for manufacturers that operate short production runs and need to be able to quickly redeploy the robot for new routes and tasks.
Collaborative AMRs are highly flexible and can be easily be adapted to the need of a specific customer. MiR has an entire ecosystem, that offers different top modules that can be mounted on top of the mobile platform for fast customization. AMRs can be mounted with robot arms, conveyors, shelf lifts to pick up carts, racks, pallet lifts, or other equipment on top to support specific workflows.
Collaborative AMRs are tools to support employees in their work, relieving them of many heavy, unergonomic and time-consuming tasks related to material handling, and reducing the overall risk of collisions. At the same time, these AMRs enable manufacturers to improve productivity by using robots to free up time for human workers that can use their skills for more valuable tasks.
Stay competitive with collaborative AMRs
The market for collaborative AMRs is still at an early stage. End-users and systems integrators are still gaining experience on what works in the design and implementation of AMR applications. Technology developments such as AI features for AMRs hold promise for expanding the range of applications for AMRs as they become smarter and even better at interacting with their environments.
The benefits of collaborative AMRs cannot be ignored; this logistics solution is adapted to agile manufacturing and warehouse environments by being flexible, scalable and easy to integrate and customize. Collaborative AMRs improve the work environment and the shop floor safety while improving material handling, raising efficiency, and lowering labor costs as the workers can now focus on higher value tasks. In challenging markets with global competition, collaborative AMRs can be a solution to stay competitive.
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