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EVENTS

Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference and Expo
FOOD AUTOMATION & MANUFACTURING CONFERENCE AND EXPO
September 13-16, 2020
Food Engineering's Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference and Expo is a 2 ½ day event that brings food and beverage processors and suppliers together to gain valuable information on the latest trends and technologies in manufacturing, automation, sustainability and food safety. FA...

 BIOMEDevice Boston
 BIOMEDEVICE BOSTON
September 16-17, 2020
The Conference brings together renowned R&D experts and technology innovators to share information regarding opportunities, best practices and challenges in the development of the new devices. Attendees will get insight into device innovation trends, next-generation design strategies and upcomin...

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Fleets of Autonomous Mobile Robots

NIC TEMPLE
SHARESHARESHARE
Current market conditions including labor hiring challenges (extremely low unemployment rates and an increasing national minimum wage) are dramatically changing the operating modes of warehouses and distribution centers. Manufacturing and retail are also impacted.

Compounded by increasing same-day customer service demands, especially for e-fulfillment and omnichannel retail markets, warehouse automation is driving the conversation away from fixed conveyors and traditional AGVs (automated guided vehicles) toward fleets of AMRs (autonomous mobile robots).

Last month, Lidl grocery chain announced it will invest $100 million to build a new distribution center in Covington, GA. This will be the grocer’s fourth regional distribution center in the U.S. The 925,000-square-foot facility will serve as a regional headquarters.

Similarly, FleetPride recently opened a new 150,000-sq.-ft., state-of-the-art distribution center in Elgin, IL, that replaced its existing facility in nearby Bolingbrook. The truck and trailer parts distributor said the Elgin facility will soon be followed by a 256,000-sq.-ft. distribution center currently under construction in Lilburn, GA, near Atlanta. The Lilburn facility is slated to open in mid-2020. The new facility will provide overnight replenishment to more than 45 branches, and it is part of FleetPride’s broader network of regional distribution centers. FleetPride currently keeps more than 60,000 parts in stock.

Fleets of Autonomous Mobile Robots
© 2020 ForwardX
AMR vs. AGV
AMRs and AGVs move through a facility differently. An AGV usually operates on a fixed and guided route, a “virtual railroad.” Many AGVs do not have the ability to make quick last-minute path changes, whereas AMRs alter routing quickly and easily. Furthermore, delivery sequences become complex as the number of vehicles scale up and down at the facility. If a third vehicle needs to pick up at the first position point on the “virtual railroad,” the first and second robots will have to move out of the way. Lastly, the path often requires fixed infrastructure for the AGV to navigate. This makes it costly and time consuming to change paths when the floor changes.

An AMR is an autonomously navigating robot designed to work collaboratively with humans, particularly in warehouse situations (especially when carrying parcels, totes, boxes, carts or even pallets to pickers and packers). AMRs offer flexible solutions which easy adjust to rapidly changing operational needs.

AMRs: the best fleet solution
Cost justification for AMR fleets occurs by reducing travel time allowing workers to spend more time in zone picking and fulfilling orders. Calculating travel time is quantified when considering the number of SKUs in an operation. The greater the number of SKUs stocked, the more travel time is required to fill an order. Without a minimum number of SKUs, travel time will not be reduced sufficiently to cost-justify the AMR.

Fleets of Autonomous Mobile Robots
© 2020 ForwardX

Fleets of AMRs should be considered depending on the type of product handled. Load capacity of AMRs prove ideal in reducing walk-time, increasing throughput, and productivity.

Visual Autonomous Mobile Robots with built-in AI
Visual Autonomous Mobile Robots with built-in AI are game-changing navigation and obstacle avoidance breakthroughs. Rather than relying on LiDAR SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) like most AMRs in the market, ForwardX’s robots depend on a sensor fusion solution with global award-winning Computer Vision (CV) being the primary source for localization (V-SLAM); obstacle avoidance with LiDAR, Encoder, and IMU data act as secondary feedback to the control loop. 

LiDAR is 2D, so 3D CV technology offers a richer source of data, and a more robust solution far better-suited to ever-changing warehouses and distribution centers. Integration with WMS, MES, and ERP via Robot Computing Systems make visual autonomous robots into game-changing fleets.

ForwardX robots depend on V-SLAM with Deep Learning techniques for positioning and navigation. This allows robots to adapt more readily to changing environments that LiDAR-only based robots cannot handle. The ability to “learn on the fly” allows the big data gathered to predict velocity and direction of obstacles using Deep-Q-Learning and Asynchronous Advantage Actor-Critic techniques. The result is a more intuitive nature in these robots which drive a more collaborative and efficient local path planning.

AI Fleet Manager
The performance of an individual robot is not the only factor to consider when looking at a fleet of 10, 20, or even 100 robots. When automating medium to very large facilities, a robust Fleet Manager acts as the air traffic controller, ensuring maximum efficiency of all robots. The Fleet Manager can be deployed in the cloud or on premises.

Best-in-class Fleet Managers allow the user to determine the picking strategy to maximize efficiency. This calculation includes receiving information automatically from the WMS/MES/ERP and then re-grouping orders to match the picking strategy.

The ForwardX Fleet Manager can regroup the data it receives from any supervisory system and assign it to individual robots automatically to match the picking strategy.

By deploying wearables, such as a smart watch, the people doing the picking can also assign tasks in real-time to those pickers and match them to the robots.

Optimally, a Fleet Manager will have AI native to the solution allowing automated performance improvements. The described Fleet Manager analyzes the paths that are typically taken in a facility and the neural network becomes more intelligent. This means the robots will start to predict what the next delivery solution might look like and be better prepared to accommodate peaks and troughs of delivery requirements.

For the user, this simply means a more efficient delivery system with a lower cost per delivery or more deliveries per hour. The larger the distribution center or warehouse the more these efficiencies multiply.

Large Distribution Centers Ideal for Visual AMRs
Fleets of Autonomous Mobile Robots
© 2020 ForwardX

A new distribution center is coming to DeKalb and will create approximately roughly 500 jobs. The one-point-six million square foot distribution complex will be located in the center of the Chicago West Business Park, which is south of I-88, near the DeKalb Oasis. The distribution center belongs to Ferrara; the portfolio includes brands such as SweeTARTS, NERDS, Lemonheads, and Now and Laters. Headquartered in Chicago and the projected investment in the facility will exceed $100 million and is expected to open in 2021. Weekly these massive warehouses and distribution centers are announced; AMRs from ForwardX answer the demand.
About The Author
Nic Temple is the Vice President of Sales for the Americas at ForwardX Robotics, a vision based autonomous mobile robot (AMR) and technology company. For 15 years and counting, he develops relationships with customers to address their business’s performance improvement requirements by applying world-class cutting-edge technology. Temple helps guide them through potential pitfalls of being early-adopters to ensure that they are successful and ultimately increase their competitiveness in the market. He holds a BSME from Virginia Tech and an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). 
Visit Nic at MODEX 2020, Booth 1207.

SPOTLIGHT

Founded in 2016 by former Oracle SaaS product Head, Nicolas Chee, backed by CDH Investments, Eastern Bell Venture Capital, and Angel Around, ForwardX Robotics is formed by a group of top engineers and scientists who are passionate in invention and creation. The team has developed world’s most cutting-edge robot vision and self-driving technology. Driven by the will of boosting the evolution of AI, and ultimately empowering people to enhance their lives and open up to more possibilities, ForwardX Robotics is pioneering in the future of AI-powered robotics.

EVENTS

Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference and Expo
FOOD AUTOMATION & MANUFACTURING CONFERENCE AND EXPO
September 13-16, 2020
Food Engineering's Food Automation & Manufacturing Conference and Expo is a 2 ½ day event that brings food and beverage processors and suppliers together to gain valuable information on the latest trends and technologies in manufacturing, automation, sustainability and food safety. FA...

 BIOMEDevice Boston
 BIOMEDEVICE BOSTON
September 16-17, 2020
The Conference brings together renowned R&D experts and technology innovators to share information regarding opportunities, best practices and challenges in the development of the new devices. Attendees will get insight into device innovation trends, next-generation design strategies and upcomin...