With current supply chain challenges such as stock outs, increasing customer demands, disruptions, and labor shortages, more and more businesses are considering automation to gain efficiencies. If you’re looking for robotics solutions, you’ve probably heard of AGVs and AMRs. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are robotics solutions used for material handling. AGVs have been used in warehouses since the 1960s while AMRs only emerged within the last two decades. Let’s explore the similarities and differences between AGVs and AMRs and how they can be used to streamline your warehouse operations.
What are AGVs and AMRs?
AGVs are material handling vehicles that travel around your warehouse following a guided, fixed path. AGVs can be preprogrammed for specific tasks that are typically handled by forklifts, conveyor systems, and other MHE.
AMRs are similar vehicles that typically use more advanced technology. AMRs are equipped with intelligent software and navigation capabilities to move around the warehouse autonomously to carry out tasks. Their biggest difference is that AMRs do not need a predetermined path since they can dynamically navigate their environments.
How Do They Work?
A good way to think about the difference between AGVs and AMRs in terms of navigation is to think about an AGV as a train on a fixed track while an AMR is more like a car that can move freely. While the AMR still must follow certain restrictions, it can change its path on the “road” if it finds a more efficient route or needs to dodge an obstacle. If there were an obstacle in the way of an AGV on its “tracks”, the vehicle’s sensors would tell it stop until the obstacle has been removed while an AMR would have maneuvered around it.
AGVs traditionally use methods like guide wire, magnetic tape, or lasers to navigate a distribution center, but newer models have even used vision sensors and GPS. An AGV is unable to change its path and it could require software and infrastructure changes to give an AGV a new route. These vehicles are best suited for tasks where there is a fixed route that won’t change often like transporting pallets between specific pick and drop zones.
AMRs use artificial intelligence and SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) to constantly update their location and position and dynamically plan their next movement and most efficient path. A lot of AMRs use lidar sensers or cameras and assistance from path markers so they can accurately get information about their surroundings.
Both solutions are equipped with safety features such as sensors and cameras to make emergency stops. Since AMRs navigate independently and move around obstacles, they can be considered safer to use in the same area as people while AGVs might be restricted to their own area.
How Are They Used?
AGVs are typically used in industrial applications like the automotive, ecommerce, 3PL, and food and beverage industries for truck operations and intralogistics. Truck AGVs are different types of MHE with automated capabilities like forklifts, reach trucks, VNA trucks, counterbalance trucks, pallet jacks, and more. These might be used to putaway or retrieve pallets. Intralogistics AGVs can have attachments like tuggers and lifters that can haul loads around the warehouse. These might be used for transporting materials between fixed points or collecting trash. AGVs are great for repetitive tasks that follow the same path.
AMRs are more versatile and are seen both inside and outside the warehousing world. They are used most often in ecommerce and similar spaces to AGVs with the addition of the healthcare, custodial, and retail industries. In a lot of warehouse applications, AMRs can be used as “cobots” which are robots that work collaboratively with humans. A few examples of AMR cobots are System-Directed and Goods-to-Person AMRs. A System-Directed AMR might carry inventory or empty totes to users throughout the facility to perform pick or putaway tasks. A Goods-to-Person AMR might bring different products to a picker at a station so they can pick without traveling. These cobot solutions are used primarily to reduce travel for operators. Labor cost is one of the biggest expenses in warehouses, and walking often accounts for up to 50% of those costs. Freeing up operators for the more value-added tasks like picking orders can increase your productivity and save you money. There are also Sortation and Transportation AMRs that can be used for tasks like sorting orders or transporting inventory between fixed points. AMRs can also be outfitted with all kinds of attachments such as shelves, tilt trays, belts, and much more. AMRs are highly flexible since they can adapt to changes and new tasks quickly.
While there are many factors and complexities that contribute to the cost and deployment time of any robotics solution, AGVs typically have a higher cost of ownership and longer deployment than AMRs. This is mainly because they require the installation of a dedicated guidance infrastructure and a preprogrammed route. These requirements make it more expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive to perform maintenance or change the programming and physical routes. There is also less flexibility with these routes, so AGVs are limited to more repetitive operations such as traveling long distances.
There are also many benefits to implementing AGVs in your warehouse. They are great for handling heavy loads of 200 pounds or more and can vary in size depending on your needs. AGVs can also travel very quickly on their established routes. They tend to have a sufficient battery capacity, so this limits downtime and increases productivity. Using AGVs reduces travel and error rate compared to manual processes. AGVs also work well in extreme climate conditions, which is why they could be a good fit for food and beverage warehouses that utilize freezer storage.
AMRs have some disadvantages as you increase the intricacies of your operation. While AMRs are great for working in dynamic environments and collaborating with people, they can run slower with more complexity in their paths and tasks. AMRs are also generally more suited for large volume handing to see ROI.
On the other hand, AMRs are usually quicker, cheaper, and easier to deploy compared to AGVs. Even though they utilize advanced technology, their flexibility and intelligence allow them to fit easily into any new environment with minimal disruption or infrastructure changes. This adaptability is also useful because you can easily reprogram new routes and tasks and can change or scale your solution as your business grows. They also come in various sizes and are compatible with many attachments like arms, grippers, shelves, and more, which makes possibilities endless for AMRs.
AGVs and AMRs can be combined with countless other robotics solutions to optimize your operations. For example, there are robotic arms that can pick items to Sortation AMRs or AGVs that can load pallets into an ASRS shuttle system. There are so many possibilities for hybrid solutions depending on your business needs.
How Can Bricz Help?
Are you unsure of which robotics solutions align best with your business needs? Whether you’re worried about growing labor constraints, or trying to improve service levels, our team of supply chain technology experts at firstname.lastname@example.org can help save money and time by navigating you through the vast array of cutting-edge technologies to find the offering best suited for your business. Our vender-agnostic, holistic approach to your automation journey can help you build a more resilient supply chain in 2023 and beyond.
Contributor: Gabi Falcone, Supply Chain Consultant at Bricz