Flexible warehouses: Mobile robots
The demand for flexible warehouses has increased significantly in recent years. This is mainly due to booming online trade and the growing need for on-demand warehouses. Modern warehouses must therefore be able to adapt quickly to changing requirements. The changeover of product type and quantity is often accompanied by a necessary repositioning in the warehouse. This is where mobile robots, such as AMR, AGV or Shuttles, offer a significant advantage. They are able to move around autonomously to process orders. In doing so, they are not bound to fixed routes, but can adapt to the respective environment as needed.
In addition, mobile robots offer another benefit for companies and workers: They can free people of monotonous or dirty work and even replace them completely in unsafe work environments. It is becoming more and more difficult to find and retain qualified personnel for those jobs in the long term due to the demanding working conditions.
Market view. Make or buy?
For the flexible setup of a warehouse or a production plant with mobile robots, the market offers a large number of ready-made solutions. If no suitable solution can be found, one is quickly willing to build one's own vehicle. The requirements for this can arise from the surrounding conditions or the characteristics of the goods to be transported, such as weight, size, environment and type of load carrier. If, for example, a car frame has to be transported through a paint booth or transport logistics have to be realized between two factory halls with alternating indoor and outdoor operations, the selection of existing robot solutions on the market is quickly reduced.
3 factors that can lead to the failure of in-house developments
Anyone considering developing their own mobile robot must also keep in mind those circumstances that could jeopardize the success of the project. These factors often lead to failure.
1. The project scope is underestimated
The idea of building a battery-powered vehicle and having it drive from A to B may seem simple. In practice, however, it is an elaborate project, as other system components have to be developed or adapted in addition to the technological challenges of vehicle construction. Processes, infrastructure, IT systems, plant layout and transfer points have to be adapted to the new technology.
2. Goals are aimed too high
The development of mobile robots is driven by technology trends. Numerous articles report about advanced mobile robots that can drive autonomously, avoid obstacles, detect goods, load and unload themselves, calculate optimal routes in real time, and make autonomous decisions. While these are important advances in the industry, their implementation in individual solutions is too expensive and afford a lot of development work.
3. Important competencies are missing
When developments begin without the necessary expertise and experience, it can quickly lead to project failure. Ideally, the development team has in-depth knowledge of robotics, mechatronics, safety technology, and control and computer technology. Even if certain areas are taken over by experienced development partners, this expertise is essential.
Working with an experienced development partner can minimize this risk.
What else needs to be considered?
Financially, the development of a customized mobile robot is only worthwhile if a corresponding number of units is produced. Depending on the type of robot, this number can range from several hundred to a thousand units. The mobile robot does not have to cover a wide range of applications, but can be closely tailored to the necessary requirements. The use of technology is thus limited to the essentials and the battery capacity is designed for the necessary runtime. This reduces the weight of the vehicle and minimizes the use of materials and energy.
In-house developments offer a significant advantage: independence in terms of scalability and expandability. Depending on the application, for example, the combination of a mobile robot with a robot arm can be useful. The robot arm can independently load and unload at the target positions or autonomously perform tasks during transport. If such a robot arm is required, different controllers are usually needed that are not or only slightly coordinated with each other. Synchronized, efficient movements are thus difficult to achieve. The use of many subsystems is complex and cost-intensive and should be combined on as few intelligent components as possible.
The development of an own mobile robot not only strengthens the company’s core competencies, but also significantly influences their orientation on the market. Providers of complete solutions for automated logistics recognize the need to expand their portfolio in the direction of mobile robotics. They assume overall responsibility for the automated system and increasingly offer support and service for running systems. A high degree of integration, uniform operation and service access are essential here. Standardization of automation components and their software for reuse and expansion of existing functions, ensure efficient and sustainable development. Mobile robotics, driven by new areas of application and the development of new technologies, is subject to strong change and therefore offers a good opportunity for differentiation. New technologies that are increasingly being used in mobile robotics include artificial intelligence, IT infrastructure with 5G, cyber security and fleet managers. They help improve interoperability with other automation systems or people.
Once the need to use mobile robots has been identified, the first step is always to select the right system for your logistics system from the large number of systems available on the market. If one is dealing with changing requirements and fulfills the essential prerequisites, it can still be worthwhile to develop one's own knowledge for the construction of mobile robots. With this competence, adaptations and further developments can subsequently be carried out quickly on one's own.
The greatest advantage and at the same time the greatest challenge is individualization. By developing an own mobile robot, one has full control over aspects such as size, shape, weight, load-bearing capacity as well as technologies and functions used. Working with an experienced development partner can minimize this risk.