Automated material handling systems: Explained

April 17, 2024
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What are automated material handling systems?

Automated material handling systems, or AMHS, are machines that handle, transport, and store materials within a facility. They reduce human intervention and increase all-around efficiency.

Some common automated material solutions include: 

  • Conveyors are automated transport systems that move materials from one location to another. They come in many forms, such as belt, roller, and chute conveyors. Conveyors are inexpensive, can handle high volumes, and reduce material handling costs.
  • AGVs are self-driving vehicles that transport materials without human operators. They follow embedded guide paths or sensors to navigate. AGVs provide flexible and efficient material transport. However, they require initial investment and changes to facility layout.
  • ASRS are automated warehouses that store and retrieve materials with no human intervention. Robotic cranes move materials to and from storage racks. ASRS maximize storage density, improves inventory control, and enables just-in-time delivery. 

Benefits of automated material handling systems

Thinking about the benefits of automation in material handling? 

Take a look at these: 

  • Big boost for efficiency. Automated material handling systems significantly improve efficiency in manufacturing and warehouse operations. By using conveyors, automated guided vehicles, and robotic arms to transport goods, the speed and throughput of operations increase dramatically.

    This allows companies to handle higher volumes and meet tight production schedules.
  • You’ll zap costs (in the long run). Automation reduces the need for manual labor, lowering costs associated with wages, benefits, training, and worker injuries. It also decreases costs from errors and damage.

    Studies show that some companies achieve 20-40% cost reductions after implementing automated material handling systems.
  • Way more accurate than humans. Automated systems eliminate the possibility of human error during transport and storage of goods. Precise automated controls and sensors ensure that the right materials are moved to the correct location at the right time. This results in fewer lost or misplaced items and less rework.
  • Much safer work environment. By reducing the involvement of workers in physically demanding, repetitive, and hazardous tasks, automated material handling systems create a safer work environment.

    Workers are less prone to injuries from heavy lifting, collisions with equipment, and other industrial accidents. This leads to lower insurance costs and fewer worker's compensation claims for the company.
  • Flexible, reusable, and redeployable. Automated material handling equipment can adapt to changes in product design, production volume, and workflow. Components like conveyors, carousels, and robotic arms are modular and reconfigurable. Software and controls can also be reprogrammed as needed to incorporate modifications.

    This flexibility allows companies to easily adjust their automation systems to meet evolving needs.

Potential drawbacks to keep in mind

While automated material handling systems offer many benefits, it’s not all ideal.

Keep in mind these (potential) downsides: 

  • You’ll have to pay high upfront costs. Automated systems require a significant initial investment to purchase the necessary equipment and software. The costs include conveyors, robots, racks, automated guided vehicles and the control systems to operate them. For many businesses, though, the upside is that they’ll see an ROI in 1-3 years. 
  • You’ll need some tech know-how on hand. Automated systems are complex, requiring specially trained technicians to install, operate and maintain them. This can strain resources for companies without this technical experience in-house.

    Integrating an automated system also often requires changes to existing warehouse layouts and workflows, which demands strategic planning and expertise.

    Of course, some systems like Standard Bots’ RO1 operate on no-code frameworks, allowing even non-specialists to operate them with relative ease. 
  • There’s a real risk of downtime. Although automated systems aim to increase productivity, any technical issues can lead to delays and downtime. Software or equipment malfunctions may temporarily halt operations until fixed, impacting order fulfillment and productivity.

    Proper safeguards such as preventative maintenance, real-time monitoring, and redundancy in critical components need to be put in place.
  • Yes, some jobs may be going away. Some workers may worry that automated material handling systems will eliminate jobs, especially those focused on manual, repetitive, and boring tasks.

    However, experts are divided. Some argue that automation will shift human labor to more high-value jobs, such as equipment operators and technicians to oversee automated systems. Others believe that some roles may be going the way of the dodo.

    To offset this, retraining programs can also help prepare workers for new types of jobs in the automated warehouse.

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Automated material handling examples

Automated material handling solutions are already being deployed across many big-name industries. 

Let’s take a look at some major examples: 

  • Conveyor belts are one of the most common types of automated material handling equipment. They are used to transport materials over short or long distances at a consistent speed. Conveyor belts are popular in manufacturing plants, warehouses, and distribution centers for transporting packaged goods or parts.
  • Automated storage and retrieval systems, like vertical lift modules and carousels, are used to organize and store materials in a compact space. They use robotic cranes to automatically store and retrieve materials from their designated storage locations with the push of a button. 
  • Industrial robots are programmable machines used to perform repetitive or dangerous material handling tasks with speed and precision. Robotic arms are often used for pick and place applications, palletizing, and depalletizing.

    Mobile robots, like automated guided vehicles (AGVs), are self-driving vehicles used to transport heavy materials over long distances in factories and warehouses. 
  • Sortation systems automatically sort, route, and track products as they travel through a facility. They are commonly used in distribution centers to route packages to their proper destination.

    Sorters like sliding shoe sorters, cross-belt sorters, and tilt-tray sorters can sort thousands of units per hour into different lanes or chutes based on information like shipping address, SKU number, or product type.

Summing up

Automated material handling systems can be a godsend for optimizing workflow and boosting efficiency in manufacturing and warehouse settings. 

Carefully evaluate your operation's unique needs and pain points first. Will any of these systems move the needle on critical KPIs like output, accuracy, and labor costs? 

Crunch the numbers to build a solid business case!

Next steps

Future-proof your shop floor with Standard Bots RO1, a flexible six-axis robot that opens up automated material handling for both SMEs and major operations. 

  • Automate without straining your finances. RO1 delivers essential material handling capabilities at an unmatched price point. Streamline operations and boost your bottom line.
  • Optimize throughput with precision and power: RO1's 6-axis design and robust 18kg payload mean it can reliably handle a wide range of materials and tasks. 
  • Enhance workplace safety and collaboration: Advanced safety features like machine vision allow RO1 to work seamlessly alongside your team, fostering a more productive and safer environment.
  • Intelligent automation: Powered by AI comparable to GPT-4, RO1 continually learns and adapts — it grows in value alongside your business.

Our team provides expert guidance to ensure you maximize the impact of your RO1 investment. Experience the difference – try RO1 risk-free for 30 days!

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