Autonomous mobile robots, storage and retrieval systems, and scheduling tools get an artificial intelligence boost to improve material movement efficiencies and keep workers safe.


Copyright: – “The Intelligent Warehouse”


Manufacturing technology advances have extended the realm of automation beyond plant floor sensors, controllers, vision systems, and robotics into closely connected data collection and analysis using artificial intelligence. These technologies enable a “smart factory” to self-optimize and adapt to conditions in real-time. Despite these advances, warehouse and related material moving operations tend not to be nearly as modernized as plant floor operations.

“If you look inside the most modern environment, warehouse or factory, material handling, broadly speaking, is mostly analog,” says Matthew Rendall, CEO of Otto Motors, a maker of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). “Any place where a forklift truck is driving something around, it is highly analog. That means the amount of data you have at your fingertips to analyze is limited. For decades, operators have been grasping at low accuracy, low frequency, and expensive-to-capture data trying to figure out how to run a continuous improvement program.”

For example, you can go into a factory or a warehouse today and still see industrial engineers sitting in lawn chairs at an intersection in the plant with a clip board, pencil, and stopwatch to monitor material flows, says Rendall. “It is an expensive thing to request of a highly trained industrial engineer, so it doesn’t get done frequently,” he says.

Which means the process, by its nature, is not as exact as it should be; plus, it’s rarely updated.

But this antiquated, analog surveying method is shifting in response to the decreasing cost of computer storage, increasing compute power, and new tools that target warehouse and distribution operations.

The roaming robot

Otto Motors is delivering tools to help industrial engineers automate the study of time and motion—and it comes in the form of the AMR. “The remarkable contrast that an AMR brings to the table is that we have sub-inch and sub-second level accuracy, and the marginal cost to collect an additional survey is zero,” Rendall explains. “So you are able to run industrial engineering time and motion studies on steroids at all times[…]

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