February 12, 2021

Safety, Your Operations and AMRs

How AMRs Contribute to Workplace Safety

In any workplace, safety must be a top priority. A safe workplace contributes to productive and profitable operations.

Knowing which technologies, solutions, and workplace initiatives to invest in for maximum return on profitability, productivity, and safety is not easy. Technology alone does not necessarily breed improvements and relying solely on safety programs and education is not the answer.

Enter autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). AMRs offer a balance between safety, productivity, and profitability. With the right AMRs and fleet control software, workplace safety improves, productivity increases, and the return on investment (ROI) is heightened in both the short- and long-term.

The safety of your employees, products, and operations has a significant impact on operational efficiency and profitability. In this first of our two-part series on automation and workplace safety we focus on AMRs and their role in safety, and in our second article we discuss the roles and responsibilities of the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner in workplace safety.

Watch the Mobile Robot Safety: Risks, Responsibilities and ROI webinar to learn from Justin Holwell, Director of Hardware and Controls Engineering, about the ways AMRs impact workplace safety.

What Makes AMRs Safe?

Built-in sensors, LiDAR scanners, simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) capabilities, and fleet control software, ensure AMRs can sense, respond, and react to objects and people in their path – substantially reducing risk of injury and accidents.

AMRs are robots engineered to navigate autonomously along pre-defined paths throughout factories, warehouses, and manufacturing facilities to transport and deliver materials.

All too frequently workplace injuries occur when visibility is limited or obstructed, for example a forklift operator cannot see their surrounding area due to a large load on the forks. This can lead to crush injuries when a person is caught between a forklift and an object, tip-overs when the forklift operator attempts to turn quickly to avoid a collision or result in product damage and human injury when a forklift clips shelving, causing the shelving to collapse.

The impacts of these risks and accidents run deep within a workplace, contributing to productivity loss, absenteeism due to injury, long- and short-term employee injuries and even death, increased insurance and liability costs, and product damage.

Data from the Industrial Truck Association, OSHA, and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights how dangerous manually operated machinery is:

  • OSHA estimates forklifts annually cause 85 fatal accidents, 34,900 accidents with serious injury, and 61,800 non-serious injuries.
  • With an estimated 855,900 forklifts in the U.S. and the useful life of a forklift at 8 years – this means 90% of all forklifts are involved in some type of accident. This does not account for forklifts involved in multiple accidents.

Moving material does not need to be a risky business. Designed to operate safely alongside people, a well-designed AMR system improves safety with:

  • Emergency stop functionality
  • Built-in sensors for personnel and object detection
  • Over-speed detection to monitor robot speed
  • On-board safety controller managing robot navigation decisions
  • Warning lights and audible signals to alert people of the robot’s presence and movements
  • Defined keep out zones to prevent the robot from entering the area

AMRs give employees the confidence of predictable movements, paths, and responses – this trickles over into increased job satisfaction, productivity, and profitability.

The Facts on AMR Regulatory Safety Requirements and Standards

There are two types AMR regulatory safety requirements and standards crucial to creating a safer workplace:

  1. Regulatory standards defined by OSHA in the U.S. These standards are compulsory and must be adhered to by law.
  2. Industry standards defined by organizations to improve AMR safety requirements. While these standards are voluntary, it is in the best interest of the robot manufacturer, integrator and owner to follow them.

To combat the gaps in outdated standards designed for automated guided vehicles (AGVs), two new standards have recently been released with specifications for AMRs:

  • ISO 3691-4 was published in February 2020. It specifies safety requirements and the means for their verification for driverless industrial trucks and their systems.
  • ANSI/RIA R15.08 was published in January 2021. It provides technical requirements for the design of industrial mobile robots to support the safety of people who work near them.

These put the onus of responsibility squarely on the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner to ensure AMRs are used responsibly and that appropriate risk assessments are undertaken. 

When researching AMR systems, it’s important to ask questions of the robot integrator and manufacturer about adherence to safety standards, safety features on the robots, and knowledge of how the AMRs ensure safety standards are upheld.

In the second article of our AMR workplace safety series, we discuss the roles and responsibilities of the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner in workplace safety and adhering to regulatory safety standards.

Safety is a Shared Responsibility

The robot manufacturer, integrator, owner, and employees all have important roles in workplace safety. While AMR systems have integrated safety sensors, use the latest in radar technologies, and are powered by fleet control software – the robot cannot do it all when it comes to safety.

Capabilities such as defining collision-avoidance operations to establish safety zones and obstacle detection, and restart intelligence help AMRs support a safe workplace. But these depend on the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner understanding what makes a safe work environment.

Robot Manufacturer

The robot manufacturer must prioritize designing an AMR that adheres to the latest OSHA and industry standards. Ideally, the manufacturer should consider how current and future technologies can be integrated to go above and beyond industry safety requirements.

AMRs must include emergency controls, built-in sensor capabilities, safety functions, warning signals and lights, personnel and object detection, overspeed controls, and more.

Robot Integrator

The robot integrator is responsible for assessing the entire workspace or system to ensure AMRs can be used safely. This includes understanding how features such as doorways, other equipment, high-traffic areas, transfer points, and other system features impact the ability of AMRs to function effectively.

Robot Owner

The robot owner is responsible for buying a robot that is deemed safe and adheres to the latest safety regulations and standards. This requires the robot owner to understand workplace safety risks and hazards, how AMRs can integrate into the workplace, and the best way to educate employees on interacting with and operating AMRs.

The robot owner and integrator must work together when bringing robots into the operations. If the robot owner is also the integrator, the owner must be fully aware of the integrator’s role in designing and deploying AMR systems and workplace safety.

It is important to remember that buying a safe robot is only the first step in improving workplace safety and reducing risk. Knowing what makes a safe operation and how AMRs integrate is crucial.

Watch our Mobile Robot Safety: Risks, Responsibilities and ROI webinar to learn how the robot manufacturer’s safety team and experts can help ensure a successful AMR deployment.

In the second article of our AMR workplace safety series, we discuss the roles and responsibilities of the robot manufacturer, integrator, and owner in workplace safety.

Risk Assessment and Your Operations

Risk assessment starts with the robot manufacturer and extends through to employees during day-to-day operations. Working with the robot manufacturer and integrator, the robot owner must create a risk assessment process specific to their work environment and how AMRs will be used.

A risk assessment checklist helps you understand the risk in your environment. Make sure you assess the entire workplace to determine areas of risk and for each risk evaluate:

  • Severity of injury
  • Frequency and duration of a hazard
  • Possibility of avoiding the hazard or limiting harm
  • Alternative pathways and walkways
  • How risk can be mitigated or prevented
  • Danger and keep out zones
  • Stable loading and payload guidelines
  • Robot behavior in areas such as walkways and intersections
  • Transfer point requirements
  • Acceptable speed limits and speed control capabilities

The risk assessment process is as important as buying safe robots. Contact us to discuss your facility, our safety team is ready to help.

ROI, Safety, and Profitability

When employees are worried about colliding with a forklift or are not confident in how to safely interact with workplace vehicles, productivity goes down, and liability risks and damage losses increase.

An investment in AMRs extends beyond reducing accident risks and productivity lags by creating a safe and predictable operation. AMRs can help mitigate traditional workplace costs and loss including:

  • Absenteeism due to injuries, which leads to lost productivity
  • Employee replacement and training costs
  • Costs associated with business & health insurance, as well as disability claims
  • Equipment damage
  • Product damage
  • Counter-measures deployed to address safety concerns

The ROI of bringing AMRs into your operations helps reduce the liability costs that come with manually-driven machinery. AMRs mean fewer vehicles, less congestion, fewer accidents – all contributing to increased throughput efficiency, reduced operating costs, and improved product quality.

In our Mobile Robot Safety: Risks, Responsibilities and ROI webinar, Justin Holwell, Director of Hardware and Controls Engineering at AutoGuide, provides an interesting example and case study of how AMR safety supports productivity and profitability.

Stay Safe with AMRs

Workplace and employee safety is a collective responsibility. When everyone does their part to understand the safety standards, adheres to regulations, knows the risks, and ask questions about how safety can be strengthened – your people, products, productivity, and profits benefit.

Work with a robot manufacturer and safety experts who are invested in your employee safety. Contact us to learn how we make our AMRs safe and how we can help you in creating a safe work environment that includes AMRs.

January 18, 2021

Ready to Bring AMRs into Your Operation? Make Sure You Know These Five Keys to Success

Questions to ask and features to look for in your AMR solution

You know your operation could run more efficiently. You know autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are the future. But how do you take the next step and successfully automate your operation?

It all comes down to knowing the challenges you need you to solve, the benefits AMRs can bring, and what you should expect from them. And it can be difficult to know where and how to start integrating AMRs into your operation.

The key to a successful transition to AMRs starts with identifying aspects of your operation that can benefit the most from automation and focusing on incremental changes that set you up for future growth.

To successfully move forward with AMRs, you need to know the five keys to AMR success:

  1. Costs, savings, and return on investment
  2. Right tool for the job
  3. Infrastructure matters
  4. Integrating software for long-term success
  5. Growth, flexibility, and adaptability

With this knowledge you can understand how AMRs, when deployed in the right way, can transform your operation – delivering cost savings, improving safety, allowing you to better utilize employees, and ultimately increasing efficiency.

Watch The Five Things You Must Know Before Bringing AMRs Into Your Operation webinar to learn from our experts about how to bring AMRs into your organization.

1. Know Your Numbers

The number one reason to introduce AMRs into your organization is to improve efficiency. With AMRs you are able to grow your revenue with fewer resources.

For example, your warehouse currently operates two shifts a day with a fleet of forklifts that requires a driver per vehicle. With an autonomous solution, an entire fleet of AMRs could run autonomously with only a single person overseeing the entire operation. This makes improving efficiencies and growing revenue a reality.

The best way to understand how AMRs can improve operational efficiencies is with a return on investment (ROI) calculation. This ROI calculation details your fully burdened labor costs, where you’re spending money, and lets you understand how AMRs can deliver cost reductions and improve your operational efficiency.

View the webinar to see a complete ROI calculation

In our webinar, The Five Things You Must Know Before Bringing AMRs Into Your Operation, we provide a detailed ROI model to help you quantify the savings offered by AMRs for your operation.

When you understand the ROI of bringing AMRs into your operations, you can realize these four key savings opportunities:

  1. Increased throughput efficiency: eliminating delays in replenishing raw materials, preventing costly bottlenecks, and increasing operational efficiency are just a few examples of the productivity benefits of AMRs.
  2. Reduced operating costs: with AMRs working for you, you can allocate labor to value-added tasks and further improve efficiencies.
  3. Reduced liability costs: manually-driven machinery is a huge safety liability. AMRs mean fewer vehicles, predictable paths and robust safety features that ultimately result in fewer accidents.
  4. Improved product quality: AMRs eliminate the human errors that cause damaged goods, unnecessary waste, and misplaced inventory.

2. Right Tool for the Job

When you know what to look for in an AMR system, you know you’re choosing the right tool for the job from the beginning. Forklifts, tuggers, autonomous storage and retrieval systems, and other specialty robots each have a distinct role to play in your operation – make sure you’re deploying the right tool for the job.

If you’re new to AMRs and aren’t sure how to get started, consider these four steps to guide you in your initial deployment:

  1. Keep it simple. Identify small inefficiencies in your system and choose an AMR system that lets you solve them quickly.
  2. Start with a pilot. A pilot allows you to learn what does and doesn’t work for your operation and makes it easier to prove the value of AMRs to colleagues.
  3. Easy wins first. Look for efficiencies that can be solved with minimal AMR investment and integration.
  4. Strategically expand and grow. Choose an AMR system with the flexibility to grow and adapt to your evolving business needs and challenges.

3. It All Comes Down to Infrastructure

Implementing an AMR system should not be complicated. If it is complicated, you need to step back and make sure you’re choosing the right AMR solution.

When you know why you need AMRs and the challenges they will solve, you can put your energy into evaluating AMR solutions based on the requirements they place on your infrastructure. A truly autonomous solution shouldn’t require a lot of changes to your existing facility. An AMR solution should only need:

  • Natural features for navigation, such as existing walls, doorways, and columns
  • Battery charging location, which can even be implemented as opportunity charging that allows robots to be charged while being loaded or queuing for work.
  • IT computing and network resources so the system can manage day-to-day operations for you. SurePath, our fleet control software, integrates seamlessly with your IT infrastructure.
  • Small maintenance area to complete preventive and general maintenance tasks.

During the AMR assessment and discovery process, make sure you know exactly what your AMR manufacturer needs from your infrastructure. Look for an AMR solution that has the capabilities to integrate with your existing infrastructure.

4. Software Integration for Long-term AMR Success

The right software can make or break your AMR experience. As important as the autonomous robots you choose is the software used to manage and control them.

As part of your research, ask questions about the fleet control software and how it integrates into your existing systems. Remember, your robots are only as smart as the software powering them.

Ask these questions about the fleet control software and integration:

  • What does the software do? Is it capable of managing all AMR traffic, coordinating activities, and managing orders?
  • How does the software prevent collisions, accidents, injury, and damage to goods?
  • Does the fleet control software really help me save money and cut costs? Is it possible to use this software for inventory management and optimal traffic routing?
  • I’m already using a warehouse management system (WMS)/manufacturing execution system (MES). How do I integrate your software with my existing tools and infrastructure?
  • What type of device does the software run on? How and where is our data stored?
  • What kind of data can I pull from the software? Is there a way to create custom reports?
  • Do you offer training and support for your fleet control software?
  • When my infrastructure changes, how hard is it to adjust the robot’s paths? Is this something I can do on my own or do I have to call you to do it for me?

Watch our webinar The Five Things You Must Know Before Bringing AMRs Into Your Operation to learn from Dave Levasseur, Head of Software, about how SurePath, our fleet control software, integrates with your existing system.

5. Grow, Adapt and Stay Flexible Always

Your operational needs and goals today will not be the same six months or five years from now. And this demands an AMR system designed to grow, flex and adapt with you. Your AMR solution must be capable of giving you what you need when you need it.

For us flexibility means designing a system that meets your needs today and enables you to expand the use of AMRs in your future operations. With a modular platform that supports a range of different adapters there are no limits on what AMRs can do for you.

For example, your needs may change based on the season or holiday period. Know that you can easily change adapters to meet operational demands, for example converting tuggers to pallet stackers as needed.

You need an AMR system that is: modular, flexible, scalable, adjustable, accurate, reliable, safe and deploys easily when, where, and how you need it. You get this when you choose an AMR system that is designed from the ground up to meet your needs, goals, and challenges.

Be Future-ready with the Right AMR Solution

Do not get left behind. AMRs are not just the future of assembly, manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution – they are making huge impacts now.

Contact us to learn how AMRs can help you. From productivity improvements, cost-savings, a safer workplace through to more efficient operations – AMRs can make a difference.