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AMRs vital for new normal in warehouses

18 February 2021

Commercial robotics vendors were increasingly delivering innovative solutions to warehouse efficiency way before the Covid-19 pandemic took a wrecking ball to the established order of things.

The disruptive technology is increasingly being accepted as the solution to the needs of an expanding e-commerce sector. Fleets of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) are being deployed in warehouses across the world to cope with seasonal surges as well as improving everyday efficiency.

Before the pandemic, anticipating when demand would peak was based on seasonal trends such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the festive run-in. This could be planned for and contingencies made. However, during lockdown, these peak demands for everyday essentials are being matched or even exceeded on an almost daily basis.

Not surprisingly perhaps, operators are questioning whether their existing business models are fit for purpose. Most will probably reach the conclusion that they are not. Whether the level of demand seen during lockdown will continue is debatable, but what is clear now is e-commerce fulfilment has been irrevocably changed.

The practicalities and efficiencies of the AMR solution are becoming more apparent as the new normal is established. With more people converting to e-commerce during lockdown as the means of fulfilling their needs, so growth in this sector is likely to be far higher than the organic growth which might otherwise have been expected. Under these circumstances, the scalability of warehouse operations must be addressed. If companies opt to expand their product range due to new order trends, then their fulfilment operation will also need to adjust.

For Locus Robotics this has meant having to find innovative solutions to a situation which is rapidly evolving. Since most phases of a robot deployment can be completely managed remotely, The Locus Solution is flexible enough to easily accommodate quarantine scenarios such as those experienced during the pandemic. It means warehouses can benefit from an AMR solution in as little as four weeks, enabling them to adapt far quicker to the needs of the new normal. In addition, Locus’s new Rapid Deployment and Design (RAD) program enables companies to quickly evaluate the ROI on deploying the LocusBot solution ahead of volume surges, and be up and running in weeks compared to months.

Robots can also be deployed at relatively low cost. The cost of labour has generally increased, along with availability, especially in areas of high density where businesses are competing for a limited resource. In contrast, the cost of robots has declined as the technology has become more widely proven and available. In terms of flexibility, operators find the solution appealing because of the in-built ability to adapt to most environments without infrastructure changes. Adding or removing robots depending on seasonal demand or special circumstances, such as those seen during lockdown, is a seamless process, and the collaborative nature of the technology means they can be pressed into service instantly.

The data generated by the robots can also help transform and optimise a warehouse operation. By interpreting this data, firms will have a better understanding of the needs of their organisation. Robots can be quickly deployed to the areas where products are in high demand, while the system aids strategic thinking by allowing firms to increase operational capacity and bring in high demand goods.

But perhaps the greatest benefit is to efficiency. Deploying a fleet of robots will see on average, a doubling of productivity and lowering labour costs, making the ROI equation much easier to resolve.