Let’s Talk Logistics and Warehouse Automation: How Mobile Robots Improve Supply Chain Efficiencies, Solve Labor Challenges
With consumers increasingly turning to e-commerce for everything from electronics to groceries to clothing and even furniture, challenges continue to mount for third-party logistics (3PL) companies and their warehouses customers faced with getting these orders processed and shipped as quickly as possible.
Add space constraints and lingering labor shortages across the supply chain, and it’s no wonder that logistics centers and warehouses are automating at record rates, with autonomous mobile robots (AMR) leading the pack. With 30,000 new warehouses expected in the next five years, the demand for these types of robots to transport pallets, carts and even individual boxes within these facilities will explode exponentially.
To learn more about how mobile robots are transforming logistics, we spoke with Jan Nicolay, one of our global account directors specializing in the space.
“I just had a call with a French 3PL company that is new to automation,” Jan said. “They told me that they desperately want to become more efficient and more effective, but even if they decided to deploy 50% more people to help them reach those goals, they wouldn’t be able to find 50% more people. Automating the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks like transporting empty pallets from point A to point B is the only solution.”
Repetitive tasks such as long-haul driving typically require manned fork trucks, but with autonomous mobile robots that can pick-up, transport and deliver pallets with payloads of up to 3000 pounds like the MiR1350, warehouses can redeploy human labor and see a fast return on investment in the process. With sensors and 3D cameras, the mobile robots are also a safe alternative to the manned fork trucks, where human error resulted in as many as 100,000 minor and serious injuries a year (Occupational Safety & Health Administration).
“With our mobile robots, there’s no need to add a fork truck driver to waste time driving around a facility when they can be doing more valuable tasks that are more difficult to automate, like racking in the aisles,” Jan said.
Pulling Carts and Other Key 3PL. Applications
The MiR250 Hook is getting a lot of attention from 3PL companies because many warehouse customers have existing trailers that need to be moved around the facility/warehouse/distribution center. The advantage of the MiR250 Hook is that we can hook up these existing trailers to the existing carts without the need to change anything on the cart.
“With the MiR250 Hook, the only thing we need to do when we come into the warehouse is adjust a QR code and April tag to the trailer,” Jan said. “No physical reworking of the trailer is needed at all because most of the existing carts and end customer sides are too low for standard robots to drive underneath and then pull them around. Our MiR250 Hook can simply hook up to the cart using the built-on hook system. Then the MiR250 robot can start driving and pull the cart behind it. It’s proven extremely beneficial for many 3PL companies.”
Why Logistics Companies Choose MiR
MiR’s robots safely maneuvers around all kinds of obstacles, including human workers and other robots, and should a person walk directly out in front of it, it will stop. With advanced technology and sophisticated software, the robot can navigate autonomously and choose the most efficient route to its destination. The AMRs increase throughput with more efficient process set-ups while reducing the space requirements because fewer static conveyors are needed, if any. The efficiency and agility of MiR’s mobile robots make them especially beneficial for the highly pressured 3PL industry, helping to ensure an optimized and responsive workflow. The AMRs eliminate human error and reduce the need for as many inventory checks, meaning 3PL providers can see shorter and more responsive workflows with reduced bottle necks.
The mobile robots from MiR are also:
- Designed for the must ruggedized, industrial use. The MiR600 and MiR1350, for example, are the first IP52-rated AMRs on the market. This means it has enhanced and protected components that can withstand dust particles and fluids, so it can drive closes to open gates or other places with it might be exposed to waterdrops and dirt.
- Available in multiple sizes with the largest able to carry heavy payloads up to 1350kg
- User friendly, customizable and scalable, with top modules that can be added for different applications such as pallet forks, conveyors, or even robot arms
- Easy to map to the facility and operate with intuitive software via smartphone, tablet, or computer. The robots can be integrated into existing ERP-systems, enabling the warehouses to create fully automatized solutions. The MiR Fleet software lets multiple AMRs operate in the same fleet.
Lessons Learned Expands Applications, Improves Offerings
In his focus on the 3PL/logistics market, Jan and his team leverage what they’ve learned from one customer to help others, including which types of applications best benefit from which robot. For example, they learned that some customers require higher payload and more robust robots, resulting in MiR building the MiR1350 and MiR600 to lift heavier pallets for horizontal transportation and long-haul driving. Logistics companies also deploy the mobile robots such as the MiR250 Hook for applications such as inbound buffer to storage area or from storage area to outbound buffer.
According to Jan, more than one customer in the logistics space has asked for mobile robots that can pick up and deliver pallets from the ground instead of just picking up the pallets from MiR’s specially designed pallet racks. As a result, MiR is collaborating with Logitrans to build safe, efficient and autonomous pallet lifters. While timing hasn’t been finalized, the wheels are definitely in motion!
We thought it could be helpful for those just getting started with AMRs to understand the steps involved in managing a deployment project, directly from those involved. We spent some time with Brian Betts, an application project manager for MiR Americas, and Rishabh Arora, application engineer, to find out how MIR and our partners work together to ensure our joint customers get the support they need from the start through deployment and beyond.
Here are the five steps they outlined for us:
- Application Review
When our distribution or integration partners have a customer interested in deploying our robots, they fill out the project design review template we offer to outline the initial application ideas. Once they’ve filled out the form, our application development team reviews it with them, providing any recommendations on what works, what doesn’t, and recommends some best practices to optimize the project for the specific application they’re trying to accomplish. One of our application engineers then creates a design report the partner will review directly with the customer.
The design review form our partner fills out will include the flow of the deployment process; the layout of the plant, including where the robots will travel and interact with people or other robots; what the customer has within their facility, including other robots, conveyors, forklifts, Wi-Fi coverage, ERP, warehouse management software (WMS) and manufacturing execution systems (MES). We then evaluate that information against the specs of the robots we offer and any top modules appropriate for the application to find the right solution for the customer.
- Kick-Off Meeting
At this point, they’ll likely set the customer up on MiR Academy, our free and comprehensive online training. MiR Academy leverages videos, animations, and interactive simulations for all levels.
- Project meetings
Good communication is an important component of a successful implementation. In projects with a degree of complexity, the MiR team will meet with partners and end-users for regularly scheduled project meetings. The main driver for these meetings is making sure all participants are aligned to the partner’s implementation plan. The meetings discuss the progress of the project, whether they’re hitting milestones they’ve set up with the customer, and any questions we can answer to help make the implementation as smooth as possible. We’ll hold these meetings, usually remotely, all the way until the customer signs off on the project.
- Actual Implementation
In almost all cases, our partners are responsible for the actual implementation, with the MiR applications team there to support. If the customer has a particular schedule they’re working towards, they should already have worked with the partner to establish specific timelines and milestones they’re aiming to reach. For example, some customers only want to work on the deployment during down production times or other operational constraints. To track to the implementation schedule, these expectations can be reviewed and planned for in advance of deployment.
With the more complex projects, such as multiple robots in multiple facilities, the partner’s deployment team will grow. In addition, having AMR champions within the customer’s organization will also be critical to help with the change management and adoption of the new technology, aligning internal stakeholders such as IT and operations and becoming the go-to operational experts. No matter how complex the project may be, MiR will have experts available to help guide the project and address unforeseen issues or questions. At the end of the deployment, the operators will be running the show. Partner’s will deliver MiR Specialist level classes to further the customers knowledge MiR technology and the overall integrated solution.
- Service & Support
Once the AMRs are deployed, and the customer has signed off on the project, the MiR Technical Support team transitions into the long-term support role. No matter who you are working with, your partners or MiR directly will help optimize uptime and increase productivity of your logistics operations.
For more details on how to get started on your AMR project, visit https://www.mobile-industrial-robots.com/insights/get-started-with-amrs/ or contact us. .