Autonomous Mobile Robots: An essential ingredient in Manufacturing 4.0 Era

Manufacturers are no strangers to industrial robots. They were among the earliest adopters, with automation central to their Industry 4.0 ambitions. Although autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are an important part of the journey toward building smart factories, many manufacturers are still slow to adopt AMRs, mainly because they have struggled to define the direct and indirect return on investment (ROI).

While addressing the nation during India’s 75th Independence Day recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi set a target of making India a developed nation by 2047.This target makes it quite evident that India’s digital transformation is on the fast track. For example, the Indian government is encouraging domestic manufacturing through initiatives like the Production Linked Incentive Scheme (PLI) scheme and the Make in India programme. The role of AMRs is going to be critical in ensuring the success of these initiatives, as AMRs will help increase operational capacities across manufacturing plants.

As reported by The National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) in India, the market for AMRs is expected to grow at 13.5% at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR), with certain segments projected to grow multifold within the next 2 to 3 years. As reported by ABI Research, more than 49 million 5G connections are expected in the manufacturing and industrial sector worldwide by 2030. With the impending commercial rollout of 5G in India, it is expected that production monitoring and feedback systems in manufacturing plants will be enhanced. Further, 5G will also boost the speed of operations, improve reliability and safety, and reduce maintenance cost for ecosystem players. Amongst the key features, 5G will overall enable industry players who are already prioritizing the deployment of AMRs to fast-track their operations.

As reported by The National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) in India, the market for AMRs is expected to grow at 13.5 percent at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR), with certain segments projected to grow multifold within the next 2 to 3 years

AMRs are often prioritized over AGVs in a manufacturing facility
In a manufacturing facility, AMRs are generally more agile than autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs). AGVs only have collision avoidance capabilities and are restricted to well-defined travel lanes. AMRs, on the contrary, have advanced navigation technology and obstacle avoidance technologies that enable them to map a manufacturing facility, and dynamically plan the most efficient paths between destination points and a worker’s current location. So, instead of having to go to a designated meet-up point (as in the case of an AGV) to drop off or pick up items, workers can stay where they are, and an AMR will meet them there.

As such, workers can call upon AMRs for on-demand retrievals and deliveries or to transport small parts and items from one work cell to another throughout a production environment. Once the AMR arrives for a pickup, workers can quickly hand off work-in-progress (WIP) parts or materials and direct their focus to their next task.

The AMR will then ensure the items get to the right place on time. Likewise, on the receiving end, the worker can stay focused and productive until the AMR arrives.

In storage, packing, staging, and loading areas, AMRs can also run picked or packed goods, allowing workers to stay in their zones and enabling teams to manage tremendous workloads without going home tired every day. Also worth noting is the fact that AMRs can make the on boarding of employees easier by meeting pickers in aisles and guiding them through pick lists. AMRs can quite literally tell workers what to grab from a shelf or location using voice commands delivered through headsets or visual instructions provided on heads-up displays, wearable mobile computers, or AMR-mounted tablets.

Rethinking the Meaning of “Smart Factory” with AMRs
Many manufacturers today are still experiencing production capacity mired by a lack of worker augmentation and workflow automation. Because whenever someone leaves their designated station to go retrieve or deliver materials or items, work essentially stops. Even if it only takes 30 seconds to make the round trip to meet an AGV or conveyor, minutes of productivity can be lost over the course of the day and days over the course of a year.

Overall production and fulfillment capacity declines, along with revenue potential and customer satisfaction. That is why AMRs are and should be a key part of the journey towards smart factories or factories of the future. In the future, we can expect to see more AMRs rolled out in factories and warehouses as more business leaders, engineers, and IT specialists aim to remain relevant and competitive in a Manufacturing 4.0 Era.