Sales of autonomous mobile robots and driverless lift trucks are taking off but the game-changing intralogistics technologies we will see at IMHX 2022 go much further than the simple replacement of man by machine, says event director, Rob Fisher
Across the intralogistics sector sales of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are booming. Indeed, in a recent report Interact Analysis forecast that more than 1.1 million robots will be deployed in warehouses around the world before the end of 2024. Almost a fifth of respondents quizzed earlier this year for the IMHX Optimism Index expected to be using AMRs to some extent within the next 12 months – a remarkably high figure for a technology that was seen as futuristic just a few years ago.
In simple terms, AMR technology differs from the science behind long-established Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) in that the units do not rely on human interaction to change route. Instead, on-board navigation systems guide them between destinations.
These robots are proving a particularly effective alternative to the type of conveyor-based sortation systems that have historically been used at parcel hubs and order fulfilment centres. Their attraction is partly based on the fact that they require a significantly smaller floor area within which to operate than a conveyor to achieve the same parcel throughput statistics – at a time when every square foot of available floorspace has to be optimised, this particular benefit is clearly a significant plus point.
Modular AMR-based sortation systems are also scalable, so additional robots can be introduced as and when they are needed to cope with any spikes in throughput and, what’s more, if an individual robot malfunctions, it is simply and quickly removed from the ‘shop floor’ and replaced with no discernible drop in throughput capacity.
The technology is also fully portable, which allows systems to be switched between sites if required.
Until now China and the USA have been the top two investors in AMR sortation systems but, as autonomous mobile robot technology’s reputation for bringing flexibility and scalability to some of the busiest parcel sorting hubs in the world spreads, Europe’s logistics community is increasingly conscious of the benefits that this innovative, low CapEx approach brings.
Of course, other forms of robotic and automated intralogistics technology are taking off too. For example, with a substantial decline in the availability of forklift drivers recognised as a major problem, a growing number of warehouse and distribution centre operators see driverless forklift truck technology as the solution to the recruitment and employment cost challenges they face.
Driverless forklifts undertake every type of task that would be expected of a manually-operated forklift – including vehicle loading and unloading, pallet put-away and retrieval in both standard and very narrow aisle racking configurations, as well as pallet and stillage movements throughout the warehouse.
To read more exclusive features and latest news please see our March-April issue here.