Improving Supply Chain Agility with Autonomous Material Handling

Exceptionally agile companies can process more materials and manufacture products faster than competitors. Companies benefit from quicker deliveries and better service as a result of being agile, because customers have come to expect this kind of service and companies recognize its need in order to remain competitive. In fact, a new 2020 Manufacturing Report by Plant states that 65% of senior executives in manufacturing companies cited "falling behind the competition" as their greatest threat from not investing in Industry 4.0 technology. Therefore, in order to be more agile, and move toward a smart, connected factory, many companies consider automation. 

Two categories of automation can support the agility needed in supply chains to keep up with competitors: Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs).

Supply chain managers have used AGVs for approximately 10 years. However, AMRs are becoming a commanding force in the market, with shipments nearly doubling from 2017 to 2018

Graph 1: Shipments of AMRs from 2017-2018. More than 20,000 AMRs shipped globally in 2018, which is double the amount from 2017. 

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are a type of Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) that don’t require fixed infrastructure, can navigate around obstacles and respond to real-time environmental changes. If an AGV encountered a barrier, the vehicle would remain stuck until a human intervened.

Automation Brings Materials to the Right Places

AMRs use LiDAR sensors and stereo cameras to map their surroundings, detect how far away objects are and replan paths so they can safely (and autonomously!) navigate around obstacles. This is one of the ways AMRs ensure they reach their destination in the most efficient manner without the need for magnetic strips.

Sunview Patio Doors, a customer in the Patio Door industry, required the flexibility of AMRs because they manufacture different products each day and can't afford to constantly adjust work cells, which would cost them an arm and a leg. 

In another example, employees at a company that recently deployed autonomous vehicles experienced around a 70% reduction in indirect time spent moving materials around a warehouse floor.

[This AMR] runs like a bus, from stop to stop, the vehicle picks up and delivers product on demand - it fulfills a need that no other material handlers, quite frankly, could. 

— Kurt Oberparleiter, VP of Operations, Sunview Patio Doors

Integrated Material Handling

Automated material handling solutions with integration capabilities make processes more streamlined as machines work together to achieve goals. A Toyota plant in Mississippi relied on OTTO 1500 to transport tires to assembly line workers. OTTO Motors was able to integrate with existing equipment from the facility to autonomously unload tires onto conveyors. 

Many companies also offer APIs that streamline machine-to-machine communications. When an apparel logistics company invested in an automated material handling solution with integration support, the business anticipated more than tripling its daily output.

Automated Material Handling Reduces Unnecessary Inventory

Excessive inventory can compromise a supply chain’s agility when additional supplies create clutter. Research indicates that the most agile supply chain companies rotate their inventories an average of 23 days faster than less-agile peers. 

Automated vehicles can provide workers with pre-assembled bags of parts that are delivered exactly when needed, preventing a buildup of lineside inventory.

Packages of parts work well for supply chains handling thousands of components each day, such as cars. The automotive sector is among the industries that are increasingly investing in industrial robots, as agility in this industry is extremely important due to new customization options becoming increasingly available.

Graph 2: Industrial AMR shipments continue to grow in the automotive industry.

Automation Unlocks Human Potential

A common concern with implementing automation is that it will replace human jobs. However, automation technologies are actually built to enable humans to engage in mentally stimulating tasks that AMRs simply cannot do, while repetitive, dangerous or dull work is left to the vehicles. This shift in human potential increases agility in the supply chain, and makes your company an attractive place to work

Robots are only doing the jobs that humans shouldn't have been working on in the first place. These are known as the dirty, dangerous and dull jobs.

— Robotic Industries Association

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, AMRs will actually create more jobs, rather than replace them, as humans will move toward more higher-value positions. The report states that 58 million new jobs will be created as a result of automation by 2022.

Implementing autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) will allow companies to improve supply chain agility, making them more receptive to market changes and increasing consumer expectations so they can keep up with their competitors.


Sunview Patio Doors achieves 16-month ROI with AMR technology


Sunview Patio Doors achieves 16-month ROI with AMR technology

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