Autonomous mobile robots, or AMRs, are taking off in eCommerce fulfillment warehouses. Let’s look at why leading eRetailers and third-party logistics (3PL) providers are going all-in for robots and get answers to burning questions like: Am I big enough to deploy robots? What ROI can I expect? And how can I ensure I don’t screw up?
Staci Americas' Unboxing Fulfillment podcast recently hosted Kait Peterson of Locus Robotics to hear her insights on autonomous mobile robots today. Kait and podcast host Chad Warzechahad lots of surprising revelations summarized below.
“Double or triple your productivity in the warehouse.”
That’s the return Kait says she’s seeing companies get from their AMR programs – and Chad concurs, having seen the results of warehouse robot deployment at Staci Americas Fulfillment.
Using collaborative robots (cobots) to aid in picking, packing and putaway lowers reliance on human labor. Cobots work alongside associates to locate inventory, transport finished orders to packing stations, and move pallets to be put into racks. They are making workers more productive, easing the physical demands of the job
Kait says it’s no longer a matter of if you’ll deploy autonomous mobile robots, only when.
“There are fewer excuses for not automating.”
In 6–8 weeks, Kait says you can have a fleet of robots in your facility. Compare that to the 16 – 24 months Kait says it typically takes just to get the materials to put in a fixed automation solution, like conveyors.
The speed gain is partly due to the robots-as-a-service (RaaS) financing model, which avoids large capital outlays to deploy the technology. Robot implementation can be done in a fraction of the time commitment automation buyers are used to, and the project can be treated as an operating expense rather than a big CapEx investment.
“It’s a mistake to look at robotics as a pilot exercise.”
Commit. That’s Kait’s advice. One of the biggest mistakes she sees companies make all the time is to deploy a program of five robots, for example, and down the road conclude that they didn’t realize the value.
She says companies that see the most benefit are the ones that dedicate an entire picking area to robots and a robotic methodology.
“It's hard to realize the value with a mini pilot,” says Kait. “You have to think of it as an entire strategy within your warehouse.”
“Companies need to see autonomous mobile robots to become believers.”
Chad points out that only 5 to 10% of warehouses today are actually automated.
Kait and Chad agree there is a gap in most people’s understanding of robots and what they can do. They also agree that companies and associates must actually interact with robotic solutions to close that gap.
“I think most brands have failed to deploy robots because they haven’t seen or touched the technology,” Chad adds. “Attitudes change once you do that.”
“Warehouse workers love robots.”
A common perception is that warehouse workers will be threatened by robots who are, after all, taking over some of the workers’ tasks. Kait says once associates work alongside robots, they find that the opposite is true. “Robots do repetitive, manual jobs workers don’t want to do,” she says, “like lifting, pushing heavy carts and walking long distances.”
“In brownfield environments, you can literally just drop bots in.”
When it comes to implementation, installing an autonomous mobile robots system is much simpler than it is for a standard, traditional-type automation, Kait says. There’s no lengthy lead time to design or downtime to warehouse operations during the install.
“You're not having to close your operation to scrape your warehouse and put in all new racking and laser measure your floors,” Kait explains.
Ready to Enter the AMR Game?
The sooner you automate with robots, the sooner you can experience the productivity benefits. One fast path to automation is to work with a fulfillment 3PL that leverages robots and can bounce the efficiencies and cost savings back to you.