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Revolutionizing Warehouse Automation: A blueprint to AMR deployment

The introduction of autonomous mobile robots in warehouses and distribution centers creates anxiety among workers, and concerns about integration. But there is a path to success.

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This is an excerpt of the original article. It was written for the March-April 2024 edition of Supply Chain Management Review. The full article is available to current subscribers.

March-April 2024

Part of any supply chain manager’s job is risk mitigation. Thanks to COVID-19 and the ensuing, and constant, disruptions that have followed, more companies are now focused on reducing their exposure to supply chain chaos. We’ve heard a lot about diversification in recent years—having multiple suppliers in multiple locations. But risk mitigation goes far beyond diversification, and the recent case of Boeing should serve as a cautionary tale not to avoid those other risks.
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Warehouse autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are interactive robots leveraging advanced sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide material handling capabilities within a confined area. The affordability, flexibility, and scalability of AMRs make them attractive solutions for increasing efficiency and effectiveness while reducing injuries and worker fatigue. Yet, the novelty of autonomous technology, humans sharing space with AMRs, and executing warehouse tasks collaboratively (e.g., order-picking) drive both excitement and anxiety when adopting such innovative, cutting-edge technology.

Integration of warehouse automation is a demanding task regardless of the type of technology; however, introducing AMRs into warehouse environments creates several unique challenges and complexities. Managing AMR integration projects to adequately address these challenges and complexities is critical to realizing the full potential of AMRs, and consequently, to achieving expected return on investments (ROI). In this article, we put forth a process framework for AMR integration and use in warehouses. This article leverages our research involving interviews with 17 professionals with hands-on experience with AMR integration projects from 14 different firms representing a variety of industries and roles.

The technology

Most warehouses employ manual, picker-to-part order-picking strategies. This approach, which relies on employees walking or driving to various warehouse locations to retrieve and deliver items to central processing locations, requires significant human capital investment. Not surprisingly, order picking has long been targeted by automation efforts seeking to increase efficiency and reduce human error. Automation solutions offer several benefits including reduced operational costs, greater warehouse utilization, increased order-picking accuracy, and shorter pick times. Yet, many small- and medium-sized firms forgo automating due to risks in upfront expenditure and loss in flexibility.

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From the March-April 2024 edition of Supply Chain Management Review.

March-April 2024

Part of any supply chain manager’s job is risk mitigation. Thanks to COVID-19 and the ensuing, and constant, disruptions that have followed, more companies are now focused on reducing their exposure to supply chain…
Browse this issue archive.
Access your online digital edition.
Download a PDF file of the March-April 2024 issue.

Warehouse autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are interactive robots leveraging advanced sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide material handling capabilities within a confined area. The affordability, flexibility, and scalability of AMRs make them attractive solutions for increasing efficiency and effectiveness while reducing injuries and worker fatigue. Yet, the novelty of autonomous technology, humans sharing space with AMRs, and executing warehouse tasks collaboratively (e.g., order-picking) drive both excitement and anxiety when adopting such innovative, cutting-edge technology.

Integration of warehouse automation is a demanding task regardless of the type of technology; however, introducing AMRs into warehouse environments creates several unique challenges and complexities. Managing AMR integration projects to adequately address these challenges and complexities is critical to realizing the full potential of AMRs, and consequently, to achieving expected return on investments (ROI). In this article, we put forth a process framework for AMR integration and use in warehouses. This article leverages our research involving interviews with 17 professionals with hands-on experience with AMR integration projects from 14 different firms representing a variety of industries and roles.

The technology

Most warehouses employ manual, picker-to-part order-picking strategies. This approach, which relies on employees walking or driving to various warehouse locations to retrieve and deliver items to central processing locations, requires significant human capital investment. Not surprisingly, order picking has long been targeted by automation efforts seeking to increase efficiency and reduce human error. Automation solutions offer several benefits including reduced operational costs, greater warehouse utilization, increased order-picking accuracy, and shorter pick times. Yet, many small- and medium-sized firms forgo automating due to risks in upfront expenditure and loss in flexibility.

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MR

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