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Mobile robots are the right option for SMEs too

22 February 2022

An order for an innovative robot system shows the time is right for SMEs to invest in flexible warehouse automation, says Harry Watts.

ATTENDING THE Tomorrow’s Warehouse Conference late last year, the seminar programme offered us an array of presentation topics around the future of the warehouse environment. The subject matter that resonated most to our own interaction with customers and focus on implementing intelligent warehouse design solutions, was ‘Automation and Robotics Market Trends’ specifically identifying the role of AMRs and AGVs, and how they can, and should, be adopted by a far wider audience.

In a typical warehouse environment, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are becoming increasingly affordable options to automate key warehouse activities, such as picking, replenishment or sortation. Rather than the track or line-dependent Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) that serve a fixed-purpose on hard-coded routes and algorithms; AMRs utilise Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping (SLAM) technology, which further increase their flexibility both from a routing, but also with regards to the activities that they can fulfil.

While AMRs and AGVs are not entirely new to the warehouse scene, the recent development of a tranche of lower-cost, simpler-to-implement robots have allowed them to become increasingly accessible to SME-players. Automation being a tool only for large organisations, is now a myth that we continue to dispel in discussions with customers across a wide range of industry sectors such as food & beverage, e-commerce and retail.

The deployment of robotics and AMRs in particular, within smaller warehouse facilities has begun to gain significant traction as the technology proliferates (and simplifies) sufficiently to warrant investment from the SME market, with tangible benefits across warehouse operations. We believe the key to driving uptake of this phenomenally versatile technology, is to demonstrate its flexibility, efficiency levels and ROI within an data-driven, intelligent warehouse design solution.

As a perfect example of this, SEC have recently secured an order for the delivery of a novel robot-system called a Roboshuttle. The roboshuttle is a fully-automated Tote-retrieval Robot, that acts in a Goods to Picker capacity in environments up to 8m in height, or higher if combined with a multi-level storage structure. This system will reduce the quantity of pickers required by almost 90% allowing a transition from scores of pickers down to low single-digits, through the implementation of a small hive of tote-retrieval robots that eliminate virtually all travel distances for picking and putaway.

This implementation is expected to be the first of its type in Europe, and will go live later this year. The system is built upon pre-existing, award-winning technology that has been implemented in more than 300 distribution centres (utilising approximately 25,000 robots) in blue-chip operations around the world. However, the exciting difference in this implementation, is that this innovative, ground-breaking solution will be delivered into a company that employs less than 100 employees in total. An SME that has been attracted not just by the efficiency, and affordability, but also the flexibility and scalability of this AMR solution.

The fact that a ground-breaking technology’s first steps will be taken in an SME environment, is testament to how radical the influence of the technology of the “information era” has been (and will further be) on the warehouse for both large and small companies. In many ways, it would appear that “Tomorrow’s Warehouse” is available right now.  

Harry Watts, managing director, SEC Group

For more information, visit www.sec-storage.co.uk

 
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