You may be looking to accelerate your automation projects to increase safety and adjust to new demands. Because of their versatility, autonomous mobile robots have become the preferred method for automated material handling versus inflexible automated guided vehicles or fixed conveyors.
‘Intangibles’ have consequences
If you are considering employing autonomous mobile robots or AMRs, you are likely started researching different models and price points to fit your operation and budget. In recent years, AMR capabilities have increased, while unit costs have come down — making them a real possibility for small and midsized businesses. But there are hidden costs to consider, which can delay deployment and reduce the robots’ value to workers and the organization as a whole.
When adding an AMR to your operations, it is vital that you account for both initial, and ongoing, setup, deployment, and reconfiguration efforts that can become expensive if the robot is not easy to use.
Hidden costs can cause delays and reduce value: When you receive quotes from mobile robot vendors, they most likely will include the robot hardware, accessories, options, and required software, as well as options to purchase training hours or service contracts.
Intangible expenses that are historically associated with long-term, total cost of ownership are not usually talked about. When adding an AMR to your operations, it is vital that you account for both initial and ongoing setup, deployment, and reconfiguration efforts that can become expensive if the robot is not easy to use.
Setup and initial configuration: AMR setup requires creation of maps, waypoints, and missions at a minimum. For many AMRs, getting the robot out of the box and operating autonomously is a complicated process. This can result in hidden set up costs that may include:
- Lost time to modify or adapt the building
- Cost to hire the vendor or a roboticist to configure the robot
- Time lost on training employees to setup and use the robots
- Hours spent creating and editing the maps and subsequent re-mapping when the work inevitably changes
Deployment: Robot configuration is part of the process, but network dependence, integration with other physical and software systems, and acceptance by the workforce are also critical factors. The people who will be using this new tool need to be involved early on to make it happen. If the robot is not intuitive and user-friendly, they will be frustrated as they spend countless hours figuring it out or trying to get help from the robot supplier.
As frustration mounts, deployment delays can occur, adding further risk and cost to the overall project.The workforce should be collaborating with the robot, so how will they control the robot? The workers who set up, deploy, and test the AMRs should be empowered to configure the user interfaces too. They will know better than anyone how to set up those devices. But that only works if the devices are accessible to them and are easy to master.
Reconfiguration: When the work changes, you will want the robots to change with you, so ease of reconfiguration should be part of your evaluation process. If the autonomous mobile robots are complicated or difficult to use, then you might be forced to contract the vendor’s roboticist or hire one of your own to keep the AMRs running.
Keep in mind that if the AMR you bought required extensive employee training, any new hire will also need to be trained – an added cost not on the initial price tag. Choosing an easy to use and easy to learn robot now can help avoid these unexpected and ongoing costs.
How to get the most from autonomous mobile robots
To realize an AMR’s full potential and avoid unexpected costs, look for easy-to-use mobile robots that are designed for the workforce who are on the job today. For this, I recommend paying close attention to the following:
Easy setup: Complicated robots cost workers time and companies money. A mobile robot that is both easy to set up and simple to operate is essential.
For example, Wapoint’s Vector AMR is so simple to set up, operate, and maintain that it can be immediately put in the hands of the workers on the job today. Getting this robot out of its box and working on your floor can be done in 15 minutes.
In addition, Waypoint’s Dispatcher software walks users through setup, while Whistle, Waypoint’s robot controller, makes commanding a robot as easy as pushing an elevator button.
Intuitive operation in complex settings: Once the AMR is set up, it will navigate on its own, avoid obstacles, and find the best route from A to B, without human intervention. With their navigation and advanced sensing capabilities, AMRs will also adapt to their environments as changes occur or unexpected items appear.
Robots designed for everyone: The workforce is already overworked and stretched thin, and the average warehouse worker wastes nearly seven weeks per year in unnecessary motion, which adds up to more than $4.3 billion in labor cost in the U.S. alone. The difficult labor market and the on-demand economy leave absolutely no time to waste.
Providing an AMR that is designed to assist people will enable them to focus more on the valuable tasks that only they can do. The right AMR platform will feature:
- Simple, straightforward startup
- Intuitive robot behavior enabled by 3D perception, advanced obstacle avoidance, and instant path planning
- Maneuverability so the mobile robot can quickly dock in any orientation to interface with workers, work cells, machines, or conveyors
- Worry-free wireless power for autonomous charging
- Robust safety systems
- Simple, economical, common sense robot controls for HMI deployments
Benefits beyond traditional ROI
Choosing easy-to-use mobile robots designed for the workforce will benefit them and their employers in ways that go far beyond traditional return-on-investment calculations. Workers will be able to put these tools to work immediately and minimize lost time for extensive training.
Workers using great tools are more engaged in their work. They can focus on valuable tasks and leave the monotonous, backbreaking work to the robot. They go home daily with more energy for their families and have a better quality of life. Investing in better tools for workers will make it easier to attract and retain other great workers.
In short, the value of an AMR can extend far beyond automated material handling, but to realize these gains requires a system that can be quickly and easily operated by workers on the job today.
Editors Note: The Robot Report would like to thank Waypoint Robotics for permission to edit and publish this column. The original can be found here. All views, thoughts, and opinions expressed therein belong solely to the author.
About the author
Jason Walker is co-founder and CEO of Waypoint Robotics, which develops and manufactures fully autonomous mobile robots that are easy to use, industrial strength, and designed to be set up and used by today’s workforce. Waypoint is a 2020 RBR50 innovation award winner for its MAV3K heavy-duty AMR.
Prior to founding Waypoint, Walker was the co-founder and director of operations at CyPhy Works, where he served as lead roboticist and principal investigator for its contracts with agencies such as DARPA, NIST, and the National Science Foundation. Walker helped grow CyPhy Works into a leading tethered drone supplier in North America.
Before co-founding CyPhy Works, Walker was the quality, reliability, and testing manager for the Roomba vacuuming robot at iRobot. Walker received a BSEE with a concentration in robotics and control systems from Kansas State University and is a lifelong entrepreneur. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.