May 18, 2021

A Roadmap to Successful Automation with AMRs

How and Why to Automate Your Operations

Resiliency and agility are prerequisites for companies who want to remain profitable and relevant.

Major advancements in automation technology, leadership, and expertise are enabling companies to make changes and optimize their operations with automation and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

However, concerns over interruptions in the production environment and risks to throughput stability sometimes delay decisions to deploy automation. Understanding the challenges in moving from discussions about automation to a full-scale productive AMR deployment can address these concerns and get you on the path to automation.

In this blog post, we give you a roadmap to deploying automation– a proven process you can follow to ensure a successful, methodical, and strategic AMR implementation that mitigates as many risks as possible.

  1. Identify opportunities for automation
  2. Meet with an AMR vendor
  3. Develop and test an AMR deployment proof of concept
  4. Execute and evaluate a pilot in the production environment
  5. Move from pilot to deployment for a workflow
  6. Expand the AMR deployment to other workflows and facilities

How and Why Automation Helps Operations Management

Managing multiple business pressures from supply chain logistics, labor shortages, safety issues, through to ecommerce demands and the economics of running a sustainable operation underscore the benefits of automation.

  • Reduce operating costs, and increase operational and throughput efficiency by reallocating labor to value-added tasks.
  • Reduce labor and training costs while overcoming the skilled labor shortage.
  • Improve workplace health and safety with safer vehicles, predictable paths, and less human error.
  • Eliminate delays in replenishing raw materials and prevent costly bottlenecks.
  • Optimize how materials move from manufacturing to warehousing to distribution.
  • Eliminate the human errors that cause damaged goods, unnecessary waste and misplaced inventory.

The caveat is these AMR benefits require intentional action. Companies need to do their due diligence, understand the ROI of AMRs, and work with a proven robot manufacturer who makes safety, training, and customer service a priority.

Successful automation demands a thorough understanding of the business challenges and the best ways to implement technology for short- and long-term growth.

AMR and Automation Roadmap

Use our AMR and automation roadmap to guide you in enabling your operations to strategically take advantage of technology while strengthening your efficiencies.

1. Identify Opportunities for Automation

Review your operation for tasks that are:

  • Repetitive: is this a task that is repeated multiple times per shift? Automating repetitive tasks enables workers to stay engaged and focused on high-value tasks.
  • Predictable: does the task adhere to the same process every time? For example, moving materials from point A to point B, moving pallets from dock to storage, or just in time delivery of raw materials from storage to line-side.
  • Taxing on people: could automation reduce the physical requirements of employees? For example, eliminate moving heavy loads by hand or push carts.
  • Unsafe: can automation reduce or eliminate the safety risks and hazards? Review your risk assessment documents to understand your risks and opportunities for improvement. Look for risks that naturally lend themselves to automating, such as replacing manual forklifts with tuggers to move pallets of materials long distances.
  • Cause product or materials damage: is there a way to automate the process to reduce or eliminate the risk of damage? Robots have built-in sensors and safety features to prevent damage to materials.
  • Inefficient: does the task really require an employee? For example, instead of using a person to move a pallet from the end of line to a shrink wrap machine, with automation an order picker can press a call button to summon an autonomous forklift to move the completed pallet.

2. Meet with an AMR Vendor

It’s essential you work with an AMR vendor who understands the capabilities of their vehicles and knows how to identify the best opportunities in your operation for automation, and which robots are best suited for each task.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits all robot or automation deployment. Work with a vendor who looks at your unique needs and identifies the best opportunities for automation.

Your vendor should have the expertise to partner with you to identify the processes that need improvement and can benefit from automation. A knowledgeable vendor has the capabilities to quickly learn your operation and provide experience-backed advice on your automation opportunities.  

A proven and trusted vendor will:

  • Adopt a consultative approach to the sale. You need a long-term partner who can grow with you over time. Your vendor needs to do more than provide a quote for product. Look for a vendor who is your partner in creating and supporting an end-to-end solution that meets your specific needs and concerns.  
  • Take a holistic view of your operation. They should look at all of your processes and advise you on the most impactful (including labor, costs, and ROI) tasks for automation.
  • Create an intentional automation plan. Your vendor should provide you with a step-by-step plan for automating your facility, beginning with the workflows that are easiest and/or most impactful. Once people are accustomed to working with automation, more complex workflows can be implemented.
  • Arm you with a business case to justify the expense. A solid business case that takes in to account improved safety, resource re-allocation, and operational efficiencies provides the means to justify the expenditure to management.

3. Develop an AMR Deployment Proof of Concept (PoC)

Work with the vendor to develop a Proof of Concept (PoC) that helps you understand how and where the solution meets your requirements.

A PoC identifies objectives the robot is expected to meet and measures the results based on specific criteria. Your vendor should have a process for developing a PoC that is most applicable to the intended application. 

During the PoC, issues that apply across multiple workflows, such as connectivity or integration challenges, or unexpected interruptions to the larger production process can be identified and resolved, ensuring the pilot runs smoother and faster.

Ask these questions to define your PoC:

  • Does the robot do what they say it can? Ask the vendor to demonstrate proof of robot capabilities.
  • Does the robot act in a safe and predictable way? Ask the vendor to point out the robot’s safety features and provide documentation for regulatory compliance.
  • Does the robot perform the intended task as expected? Ask for a demonstration of the robot in action.
  • What is not working as expected and how does that affect the deployment? Work with your vendor to identify gaps and develop solutions.
  • What can be done to mitigate the risk for items not working as expected? Discuss ways to improve workflows and infrastructure to eliminate risk areas.

4. Execute and Evaluate a Pilot in the Production Environment

Executing a pilot in the production environment can be stressful. Ensuring that the pilot is a natural extension of the PoC helps mitigate some of the risk.

Five Items to remember during pilot execution:  

  1. Keep the pilot to a single task in a single workflow. For example, moving a pallet from end of line to a shrink wrap machine.
  2. Choose an AMR workflow that limits the exposure of the automated task to a single geographic area, a small group of employees and a clearly defined outcome. For example, moving materials from the inbound dock to storage.
  3. Fully train operators interacting with the robots to program and collaborate with them safely. Your vendor should provide training for all operators.
  4. Clearly communicate to all employees where the robots will be operating and how to interact with them should they encounter one.
  5. Evaluate and measure the pilot, adapting and re-defining it as you go.
Robots safely interact with workers

Evaluate the AMR pilot with these questions:

  • How does the robot integrate with my existing systems and infrastructure, both physical and technical?
  • Are significant changes to the infrastructure required for a successful deployment?
  • Does the robot perform the required task effectively?
  • Are we achieving the desired business outcome? Does this now take less time, use less employee hours, improve safety, and/or improve efficiency?
  • What observations do the employees programming, operating, and collaborating with the robots have? Is the system easy to use? Is it solving a problem? What workflow improvements can be made?
  • What feedback do employees that don’t directly interact with the robots have about the presence of robots in the operation? Is additional training required about how AMRs help employees?

5. Move from Pilot to Deployment

Once a pilot has proven out the business value of automation, deploy and measure.  

Use this strategy to move from pilot to deployment:

  1. Deploy one task inside a single workflow in a production environment and measure its effectiveness.  
  2. Make the necessary tweaks to optimize the process until all efficiency gains possible have been achieved.
  3. Measure progress to evaluate the degree of efficiency gained based on the stated goals.
  4. Calculate and understand how the pilot affects the profitability of your operation.

Once a single workflow is delivering on its stated goals, identify other opportunities in the operation where an analogous or similar workflow can be deployed. The second roll-out should be smoother and faster than the first due to similarities in the task and the success of the first deployment.

Deploying automation in place of known and understood workflows can feel uncomfortable. A production line being down for even minutes can affect overall throughput.

To prevent this, develop a conservative initial roll-out and risk mitigation plans to ensure unexpected events do not have lingering impacts. Work with your vendor to establish recovery plans to enable a proactive response and efficient fix to any issues that develop.

6. Expand the AMR Deployment to other Workflows and Facilities

  • Work with the AMR vendor to add automation to additional workflows and facilities. Now that the value of automation has been quantified and the risks have been identified and mitigated, it should be where are how to expand automation to other workflows or similar workflows thoughout the business.
  • Evaluate the functionality of the robot to determine if this robot can be applied to other workflows different requirements. Talk to your vendor about how the same robot can optimize other tasks and workflows that lend themselves to automation.
  • Define goals and metrics for new automation workflows and tasks. Measuring progress against these goals is paramount to making a business case for expanding automation in your operation.

Automating a facility can seem daunting and overwhelming, however much of this apprehension can be mitigated when you work with your vendor to establish a clear process for moving from opportunity evaluation to full-scale deployment.

Using a step-by-step automation roadmap allows you to develop clear goals and metrics, and measure progress throughout, ultimately ensuring the final deployments are safe, predictable and profitable.

Contact us to discuss your challenges and develop an automation roadmap.

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.