As Supply Chain Bogs Down, Autonomous Mobile Robot Sales Trend Up

This is the peak season for movement of pallets worldwide.

Although most of these operations still involve humans driving forklifts, there is some evidence of a more meaningful use of advanced warehouse automation technology, particularly the use of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

These are robots designed to grab, drag and store pellets to/from loading docks.

As a sub-sector, AMRs dominate the warehouse automation market, which could exceed $40 billion within the next half-decade, with an expected compound annual growth rate of 15%, according to a recent report from Logistics IQ.

Citing worldwide robot sales statistics, a trusted industry expert, focusing on the warehouse sector, asserts that there were about 60,000 orders for warehouse-ready robots in 2020, and about 75% were for AMRs; In 2021, these orders will rise to 100,000, with AMRs representing 80% of them.

A third of these robot orders are from the US. Projections to 2022 indicate that, when all is said and done, the warehouse mobile robot will register a growth rate of at least 30% (by 2021). Estimates from this reliable but unnamed industry source are assumed.

“We have 20-vehicle orders booked for next year,” said Craig Malloy, CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Vecna ​​Robotics.

Until last year, most companies, including third-party logistics providers, were testing a few AMRs at a site, comfortable in what Malloy described as “trial program purgatory.”

Challenges related to and brought about by the pandemic, such as a surge in e-commerce activity and labor shortages, have created disruptions in supply chains, forcing logistics operators to accelerate automation within distribution centers over the past two years.

“Right now we have multiple customers running 10 or more vehicles and looking to grow those fleets,” Vecna’s Malloy said.

Around 200 companies manufacture AMRs globally. These types of robots are not to be confused with AMR’s predecessor, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), a category that refers to robots that move pallets of goods along a predetermined path and require operator supervision.

AGVs or AMRs should not be confused with self-driving forklifts, which are conventional vehicles reengineered with software to be able to operate autonomously. While AGVs and AMRs resemble self-driving forklifts, AMRs, for their part, take things to a different level – navigating their environment using sophisticated sensors, artificial intelligence, machine learning and computerized pathway planning techniques. .

AMRs are equipped with cameras and sensors, and if they sense an unexpected obstacle in their path, they can slow down and stop, or divert and continue.

Starting in 2020, GEODIS, a global supply chain operator, has improved the process of picking, delivering and putting away materials at one of the busiest distribution centers in Dallas. Geodis has deployed a fleet that includes several of Vecna’s automated pallet trucks (APTs), one type of AMR, and a software-driven fleet orchestration system, said Eric Douglas, its VP of engineering.

Vecna’s AMRs in GEODIS perform several important tasks. They clear designated dock docks and work with forklift drivers to bring pallets to pick and drop spots (or “P&D”) across their different facilities to increase inbound throughput and “dock-to-stock” time. By using AMRs to eliminate horizontal trips and reduce trips to the dock, productivity improved by nearly 30%.

“GEODIS has since expanded the solution to other facilities and continues to work with Vecna ​​on new opportunities,” said a Vecna ​​spokesperson.

Meanwhile, XPO Logistics
Working with technology partner Swisslog Logistics Automation, Nestlé unveiled a 638,000 sq ft fully automated distribution center in the UK last year.

Located in Leicestershire’s rail hub Segro East Midlands Gateway, the facility has been dubbed the “digital distribution warehouse of the future”. It was designed from the ground up to deliver Nestlé products using state-of-the-art robotics, automated sorting systems and the intelligent analytics of the Expo.

Tiger Global Management recently made a bet on warehouse automation — leading a $65 million Series C round for Vecna.


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