Mobile Robotic Platforms are Gaining Ground in Warehouses

Mobile robotic platforms have the capability to move around in their environment and are not fixed to one physical location. These robots are becoming more commonplace in commercial and industrial settings, particularly in warehouses that are installing mobile robotic systems at a fast pace to efficiently move materials from stocking shelves to order fulfillment zones.

According to Tractica’s recently published report on Warehousing and Logistics Robots, worldwide shipments of warehousing and logistics robots will grow from approximately 40,000 units in 2016 to 620,000 units with estimated revenue of $22.4 billion in 2021. These robots include mobile robotic platforms, shuttle automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS), industrial robotic manipulators, and gantry robots. One of the important points to be noted is that shipments of mobile robotic platforms are highest among all categories, representing over 50% of total shipments in 2016.

The demand for mobile robotic platforms is mostly coming from the customers who find difficulty in hiring and retaining enough people to run their warehousing facility and support their growth. Due to the opportunity to add more features and functions on such platforms such as manipulation, it is becoming an obvious and important choice for flexible and expandable solutions. The development of cost-effective self-driving technology in mobile robotics is another crucial factor that is enabling new applications to be automated and thereby, pushing mobile robots for quicker adoption, speeding up the material flow and reducing picking errors.

Mobile robotic platforms can be “autonomous” like autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) or self-driving vehicles (SDVs) or vision guided vehicles (VGVs), which means they can navigate an uncontrolled environment without the need for physical or electromechanical guidance devices. Alternatively, mobile robots like automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can rely on guidance devices that allow them to travel a pre-defined navigation route in relatively controlled spaces. Both AMRs and AGVs can be equipped with a robotic manipulator and customized end of arm tool or gripping system to create an automated order picking system that can pick various products while following a specific navigation sequence. Some of the prime examples of such mobile robotic platforms are OTTO 100, MiR100, TORU Cube, Carry, and Freight500.

OTTO 100 is a flagship product from OTTO Motors, a division of Clearpath Robotics. The robot is a small, powerful self-driving vehicle designed to move boxes, carts, bins, and other human-scale payloads through dynamic environments. It measures around 80 cm in length and 50 cm wide, has a maximum payload capacity of 100kg and can reach speeds of 7.2 km/h. OTTO 100 does not rely on external infrastructure for navigation, making implementation hassle-free and highly scalable. Its 0-degree turning radius enables the vehicle to maneuver down narrow aisles that are typically difficult to navigate using traditional technology.

MiR100 is another new generation of advanced mobile robot for automation of internal transport and logistics solutions developed by Mobile Industrial Robots ApS. The company was founded in 2013 and is based in Odense, Denmark. Similar to OTTO 100, MiR100 autonomously transports up to 100 kg of payload. The robot can run for 10 hours with a maximum forward speed of 5.4 km/h. It can be mounted with customized top modules such as bins, racks, lifts, conveyors, or even a collaborative robot arm. On April 3, the company launched MiR200 at Automate 2017 in Chicago. The MiR200 is a more powerful mobile robot in almost every respect than the company’s flagship MiR100, which has already been installed in more than 30 countries by companies such as Airbus, Boeing, Flex, Honeywell, Michelin, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, and Walmart.

TORU Cube, a picking robot from Munich-based Magazino, is designed to not only transport items but also pick with the help of an adaptive gripping system installed on the robot. A single item can be identified and localized by the robot via 2D and 3D cameras, gripped securely, and finally stored on its onboard removable shelf. The robot then brings shelves filled with objects directly to a shipping station. Toru is developed to work with cuboid shaped objects such as boxes of various dimensions. The robot has runtime up to 16 hours and can achieve a maximum speed of 3.6 km/h. The company is also developing another version of TORU, known as Toru Flex, which has yet to be launched commercially and is meant to work with non-regular shaped items, as well, by incorporating manipulators on the robot.

The Carry robot is the mobile robotic platform, a part of the complete solution for automated goods-to-person picking system called CarryPick offered by Swisslog. Because of its small size, the robot can move quickly between and under racks. The robot is able to lift goods with a weight of up to 600 kg and move around on an optimized route to various workstations where customer-specific processes are integrated using both pick-by-light and put-to-light techniques. As a complete solution, CarryPick is Swisslog’s most automated mobile goods-to-person picking system.

Freight500 from Fetch Robotics has been designed to move substantial loads yet still be able to fit through doorways and areas that are commonly traversed by people. The robot comes armed with Fetchcore, cloud-based management software that puts managers in control of their robot fleet. Warehouse operations can easily create and schedule workflows by adding stations, preferred routes, speed maps, and keep-out zones so that robots follow the “rules of the road” for each facility.

According to Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics, “Since our inception, the goal at Fetch Robotics has been to provide a comprehensive and powerful AMR solution that can be managed from a single platform. These new robots deliver on that mission and meet the complete range of needs of warehouse and logistics operators.”

Offering an affordable price, innovative designs, refined features, and effective ease of use, mobile robotic platforms in warehousing are experiencing healthy growth while becoming established in the United States and Europe, while also entering emerging markets in Asia. Driven by the global trends in areas such as labor costs, e-commerce, omnichannel retailing, third-party logistics (3PL), error-free order fulfillment, space optimization, and scalability of the warehouses, the future scale and growth of these robots in warehousing depends on industry participants’ success in building strong positions in developed economies, but also in emerging economies; over the next 5 to 10 years.

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