Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs): How they’re transforming warehouses

June 25, 2024
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What are Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs)?

Autonomous Mobile Robots or AMRs are self-driving vehicles used within warehouses and distribution centers to automate material handling and inventory management. 

AMRs can navigate intelligently without the need for fixed guideways like conveyor belts. 

How? With sensors, cameras, and software, AMRs can map their environment, safely move around obstacles, and operate with near-zero human intervention.

Some of the tasks they excel at in their warehouse roles are: 

  • Automated material handling
  • Inventory management 
  • Picking and packing 

Material handling know-how

AMRs navigate aisles with ease, taking on the heavy lifting (literally!) so your human workforce can focus on other tasks that won’t strain their backs. 

AMRs excel at handling materials because they’re:

  • Revamping palletizing: AMRs effortlessly transport heavy pallets from receiving docks to storage locations and vice versa. They can even handle different pallet types and sizes.
  • Moving individual cases or cartons easily: They can pick up and drop off items at specific locations, effortlessly improving your picking and packing operations.
  • Small but mighty: Even small items aren't a challenge for AMRs. They can move individual pieces to workstations, assembly lines, or shipping areas, saving valuable time and reducing the risk of human error.

Inventory tracking without a clipboard

AMRs can also transform your inventory management process with these advantages:

  • Always up-to-date: Equipped with barcode scanners and RFID readers, AMRs can accurately track inventory levels in real-time. This means no more surprises when an item is out of stock, and no more overstocking due to outdated information.
  • Easier cycle counting: AMRs can automate your cycle counting process, ensuring that your inventory records are always accurate and reliable. 
  • Data-driven decisions: The data collected by AMRs can provide valuable insights into inventory trends, helping you optimize your stock levels and avoid costly overages or shortages.

Helping make picking and packing a cinch

When it comes to order fulfillment, speed and accuracy are synonymous with success.

AMRs can significantly improve these processes, making them faster, more efficient, and less error-prone with:

  • Goods-to-person picking: AMRs can bring entire racks or shelves of items directly to pickers, eliminating the need for workers to walk long distances. This significantly reduces picking time.
  • Automated picking: Some AMRs are equipped with robotic arms or other picking mechanisms, allowing them to pick items from shelves and place them in order containers. 
  • Sorting and consolidation: AMRs can sort items into the correct orders or consolidate multiple orders into a single shipment, streamlining the packing process and ensuring that orders are complete and accurate.
  • Dynamic order fulfillment: AMRs can adapt to changing order priorities and adjust their routes in real-time, making sure that orders are picked ASAP.
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Integrating AMRs with your Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)

While AMRs are impressive on their own, you can only realize their true potential when you integrate them with a Warehouse Management System (WMS). 

Here’s how this combo makes information flow totally seamless:

  • Task allocation and routing: The WMS acts as the central command center, assigning tasks to AMRs based on real-time data and priorities. It calculates the most efficient routes, minimizing travel time and maximizing throughput.
  • Inventory visibility: The WMS receives real-time inventory updates from AMRs, ensuring accurate stock levels and preventing costly errors. This allows for better demand forecasting, optimized replenishment, and all-around better customer service.
  • Order prioritization: The WMS can prioritize orders based on various factors, such as shipping deadlines or customer preferences. This information is then relayed to AMRs, ensuring that the most urgent orders are fulfilled first.
  • Data analytics: The WMS collects and goes through data from AMRs, providing valuable insights into warehouse performance, bottlenecks, and areas for improvement. 

Safer warehouses, happier workers

AMRs can significantly improve warehouse safety by taking over repetitive, boring, and dangerous tasks. 

Here’s why they make things safer: 

  • Lower risk of accidents: AMRs have advanced sensors and safety features that let them detect and avoid obstacles, preventing collisions with workers or other equipment. 
  • Less repetitive strain injuries: Many warehouse tasks involve repetitive motions that can lead to musculoskeletal disorders over time. AMRs can take over these jobs, reducing the physical strain on workers — and preventing long-term injuries.
  • Handling dangerous materials: AMRs can be used to handle hazardous materials, such as chemicals or heavy objects, protecting workers from potential exposure and injury.
  • Improved ergonomics: AMRs can be designed to work at heights or in confined spaces that would be difficult or dangerous for humans to access. This reduces the risk of falls or other injuries caused by people working in awkward positions.

ARMs adapt to your needs with flexibility and scalability

The warehouse environment is rarely static. Order volumes fluctuate, product lines change, and seasonal demands shift. 

AMRs offer a level of flexibility and scalability that traditional warehouse automation solutions just can't match by their abilities to:

  • Adapt to changing layouts: AMRs can easily be reprogrammed to navigate new warehouse layouts or accommodate changes in workflow. This means you won’t need many of those expensive infrastructure modifications. 
  • Scale up or down: AMRs can be added or removed from your fleet as needed to handle fluctuations in demand. This allows you to scale your operations up or down without wallet-breaking significant capital investments.
  • Multitask: Many AMRs can be configured to perform multiple tasks, such as material handling, picking, and inventory tracking.
  • Integrate easily: AMRs can often be integrated with existing warehouse systems, such as WMS or ERP software, with minimal disruption to your operations. 

Energy efficiency and cost savings

AMRs tick the sustainability and savings boxes, offering significant energy savings and a reduced overall cost of ownership compared to traditional warehouse equipment.

Here’s how they do it: 

  • Lower energy consumption: AMRs typically run on rechargeable batteries, consuming less energy than gas-powered forklifts or other vehicles. Some models even feature regenerative braking, which captures and reuses energy during deceleration.
  • Reduced maintenance costs: AMRs have fewer moving parts than traditional equipment, resulting in lower maintenance costs and less downtime.
  • Optimized workflows: AMRs streamline warehouse processes, minimizing wasted time and resources. This leads to increased productivity and reduced operational costs.
  • Labor cost savings: While AMRs may require an upfront investment, they can significantly reduce labor costs over time. By automating repetitive and labor-intensive tasks, AMRs free up your workforce to focus on higher-value activities.

Summing up

The autonomous mobile robot warehouse adoption is making huge waves, and now you can see why. By automating repetitive and injury-prone tasks, they maximize efficiency, productivity, accuracy, and safety. 

As the technology continues advancing, we can expect AMRs to become an even bigger part of supply chain operations.

Next steps

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