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    Faster, Smarter, Better: Intralogistics with Autonomous Mobile Robots

    As businesses seek to optimise their operations, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) have become a reality for intralogistics in the 21st century. We now see robots alongside humans, navigating complex environments and handling materials in factories. In this blog post, our Production Manager Thorsten Mersdorf explains how AMRs improve efficiency in various industries and transform how we look at intralogistics.

    Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are now common in distribution centres, production facilities and warehouses. They are compact, driverless vehicles that transport loads or materials without a fixed, predetermined route. As the name implies, the primary purpose of deploying these robots is to autonomously drive any goods from a given source, to a given sink within the industrial workflow.

    Thorsten Mersdorf is leading the AMRs’ prototyping, commissioning, production planning and administrating processes, concerning quality management at arculus. He defines them as:

    “In fundamental terms, I would describe AMRs as robots that do not require an additional infrastructure for navigation and orientation within the intralogistics system.”

    Thorsten Mersdorf, Production Manager
    Two men are standing in a robot testing area. The man on the left is wearing a dark blue jacket. He is smiling with glasses on and has a beard. The man to the right of him is also smiling and wearing glasses. Both men are looking at their laptops.  On either side of them there are windows letting natural light into the room, illuminating their faces as they look down at their laptop screens. Behind them, on the floor, is an arculee.
    From left to right: Thomas Fuhrmann (Software Engineer) and Thorsten Mersdorf testing one of the arculee Backpacks

    What do Autonomous Mobile Robots bring to the table?

    AMRs are becoming increasingly popular because of their versatility and quick integration into existing infrastructures. Compared to manual operations, using them in a facility offers many benefits to businesses. Some advantages include reduced labour costs, more efficient work processes, enhanced flexibility, and safe human-robot collaboration.

    The two most unique features that contribute to their high performance are:

    • Navigation: AMRs can plan and execute their routes autonomously. The technologies they use, such as high-quality cameras and laser scanners, are responsible for localisation, mapping, and adjustment to unforeseen environmental changes in the facility. If there are obstacles, AMRs reroute and complete their task without causing significant delays. This feature makes the navigation of these robots in the environment more intelligent and efficient.
    • Flexibility: The infrastructure in production facilities and warehouses needs to adapt rapidly too, due to frequent product, process, and market changes. This is where the flexibility of AMRs comes in handy as “Autonomous mobile robots can quickly adapt to the changing environment.”, adds Thorsten. This capability to meet changing layouts is one of the reasons why they are so cost-effective.

    Autonomous Mobile Robots in the bigger picture

    “Industries such as automotive, food, and logistics have already implemented AMRs for different use cases.”, says Thorsten. The overall intralogistics system may sound complex, as one fleet incorporates different sizes of robots and infrastructure for logistics and production. “Nonetheless, the applications of AMRs are so diverse that other core industries are either considering adopting them or are actively working on specific automated implementations.”, he continues.

    Here’s a closer look at two of the main use cases for AMRs:

    • Goods-to-Person (G2P) picking:

    In a G2P picking system, the AMRs lift up the goods and drive autonomously to the worker at the picking station. It allows efficient collection of items without requiring employees to walk around the workplace. As a result, there is an improvement in picking accuracy and a reduction in workers’ fatigue.

    • Pallet handling:

    AMRs also transport pallets in warehouses and distribution centres. Throughout the pallet handling process, these robots ensure precise navigation and collision avoidance, thereby reducing the risk of accidents, as well as streamlining the process.

    A warehouse setting at a showcase. It represents a VNA use case with Jungheinrich trucks and arculees doing the automatic pick and transport of goods.
    arculees operating at an implemented VNA system
    • AutoVNA Use Case as an extension of pallet handling:

    One of the innovations in pallet handling is AutoVNA. It uses AMRs for vertical transportation between the warehouse and a picking station and the VNA (a very narrow aisle) for horizontal handling within the warehouse. Together, they form a compelling combination of two transport systems and may help reduce infrastructure needs, such as handover stations in the future.

    Insights into the arculee S

    From building our first AMR to receiving the statement of conformity from TÜV Süd Product Service GmbH, the arculee has come a long way. The robot’s advanced components, such as the high-quality 360° sensors, ensure safety for humans working alongside it. This safety function enables the arculee to detect a person or an object and immediately stop if they are close.

    An arculee S standing diagonally in front of the camera in the centre of the image. Behind it is a warehouse shelf with some pallets and boxes.
    arculee S all set to navigate in the warehouse

    The arculee S can also recognise load carriers of different sizes and efficiently handle a load capacity of up to 1000 kilograms. Furthermore, our robots can conveniently integrate with the host system (for central data processing), thanks to the VDA5050 interface. This protocol standardises the communication between the AMRs and any fleet management software to eliminate compatibility problems.

    In addition to the capabilities mentioned above, the latest versions of the arculee S come with an extension option called Backpack. An arculus Backpack is a piece of equipment mounted on the arculee to transport pallets or other load carriers. The extended equipment also has sensors to detect a pallet’s availability and correct position in order to enable safe transportation.

    AGVs or AMRs?

    Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) also transport materials but in a different manner. Wires, magnetic strips or sensors typically installed on the floor, guide them through fixed routes to perform repeated tasks. When AGVs encounter obstacles, they usually just stop instead of driving a detour around the obstacle like an AMR could do.

    Thorsten uses the Pearl Chain Model (a concept often applied to automobile production systems) as an example to explain the difference. A pearl chain requires a stable flow and sequence of transports. Rerouting is therefore optional. He says, “In a stable system, where a robot has to make multiple rounds on a predefined path, from let’s say, A to B, AGVs make more sense.”. Therefore, “Using AGVs in the direct assembly environment of an automotive plant can be more advantageous than using the AMRs.”, he continues.

    Unlike AMRs, Automated Guided Vehicles may have limitations in terms of adaptability and flexibility. But their reliable technology for example, in terms of navigation, is one of the reasons they are used in the automotive industry. Therefore, depending on the specific use case, Thorsten believes both technologies have the right to exist in different industries.

    Manoeuvring into the future

    With increasing possibilities for logistics automation, use cases for AMRs will likely change in the future. Although it is already evident in logistics processes that have integrated AMRs into their system, automated control is gradually becoming more central. Thorsten views the control centre of a factory as a collection of puzzle pieces. He explains, “Currently, we have a different piece of the puzzle for pre-assembly, production, logistics, or even incoming goods. Eventually all pieces will come together to form one environment or system. So, there will no longer be several use cases or sub-systems, but everything under one umbrella.”

    Thorsten is convinced that further developments in core components, such as cameras and other sensors, as well as new technologies like machine learning, will positively impact the capabilities of AMRs and thus the demand for AMRs in the coming years. This may enable the AMRs to learn from each other. As a result, we may expect autonomous mobile robots to react more accurately, efficiently, and flexibly in all situations and environments.