How to transform intralogistics performance

26 Jun 2020

Intelligent mobile robots have the potential to transform intralogistics performance, writes Frazer Watson, Head of Sales Europe for Hikrobot at Invar Systems.

A shift from fixed automation is taking place, as mobile robots are fast becoming a familiar sight within warehouse and intralogistics applications around the world. Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) do not require external infrastructure to navigate a site, instead they use integral sensors and cameras. With declining costs of this navigation technology and customers seeking solutions offering greater flexibility, global tech market advisory firm ABI Research forecasts that total shipments of AMRs will reach 2.9 million by 2030.

After commencing international installations three years ago, Hikrobot has been driving the movement to transform intralogistics worldwide. Of the 15,000 Hikrobots deployed today, c. 2,000 are shipped outside of China to markets across Asia, North America and Europe.

Employing over 1,000 staff, including over 800 engineers, Hikrobot manufactured approximately 8,000 robots in 2019, with a current capacity to produce 1,000 robots per month.  The company’s planned expansion to its production facility will increase capacity to 3,000 robots per month, to support a rapidly growing share of global markets. This includes Europe and the UK, from which Hikrobot’s first UK application is at clothing company, Superdry.

The global fashion brand is leveraging the flexibility of intelligent mini-robot carriers to transform order picking and put-away at its UK hub, just part of a phased rollout of goods-to-person robotics that will boost productivity across its international network of multi-channel fulfilment centres.   

Ecommerce companies, along with manufacturers, are the two sectors currently trailblazing the uptake of this technology.  However, any company, whether in retail, apparel, automotive, electronics – to name a few, large or small, and with a warehouse and requirement for materials handling can benefit. 

With the AMR platform, robots can be added in stages as required.  This means companies can start with a low capital expenditure solution for three critical applications: goods-to-person order picking in the warehouse; movement of materials to production line or around warehouses; and sorting, particularly for parcels in logistics and ecommerce operations.

Given that all customers are generally new to this technology, many will ask: what marks out a good AMR? Productivity boosting performance is the prime advantage.  The new generation of technology can move high load capacities at great speeds. Labour cost savings and efficiency improvements are clearly demonstrated at a client that is one of the world’s largest security product manufacturers. It operates Hikrobots for a variety of functions such as inbound delivery, outbound delivery, stock transfer, allocation, and inventory for raw materials, semi-finished products and finished products. Compared to a manual warehouse, this smart and agile warehouse solution reduces labour cost by 58% and improves efficiency by 84%.

Companies naturally need technology that is reliable. Hikrobot, for example, will only release a solution to the market once it has completely verified its stability. Components and fully assembled robots are thoroughly tested to ensure that each robot shipped to the customer is fully compliant and reliable.

AMRs offer a highly flexible solution that is also easy to replicate in warehouses across an organisation. For example, many 3PLs with multiple sites, often globally, can implement the same proven and successful ‘universal solution’ across their estate. Furthermore, if business circumstances change, during peaks like Black Friday and over the festive season, it is simple to reconfigure the software and add or reduce the number of robots on a site as required.

Software is a core technology to manage the robots and maximise control and performance. Getting large warehouse management software (WMS) vendors engaged to write the interfaces for materials handling systems can sometimes present a hurdle for any automation project. This is why most big automation companies offer their own warehouse control software (WCS) with their hardware. In the UK, Invar Systems writes the WCS for Hikrobot platforms.

When docking with a company’s upper system intelligent AMRs deliver easy to query digitised warehousing. The AMRs produce standardised data, free from human error to feed AI and big data technology. With this information, companies can optimise business processes such as labour resource management – for example redeploying people to where they can be most productive – boosting operational performance.

Ultimately, an AMR platform provides a quick, cost-effective, and modular system that improves productivity in a DC at a cost competitive price.  It enables the customer to have an enormous amount of input into configuration. This compelling combination gives the kind of competitive edge that appeals to operations of all kinds around the world.

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