Guest Author: Josh Kivenko, CMO Vecna Robotics
By now, it’s clear that warehouse automation is taking hold on a massive scale. Material handling robots are no longer innovation proof-of-concepts, they’ve entered the mainstream and are providing value consistently and globally. However, there’s an important element in this success story that cannot be ignored.
In a recent automation market study that surveyed more than 1000 supply chain professionals, 5G adoption has emerged as the leading technology trend of the year. Advancements in private 5G networks have reached a crucial stage, propelling warehouses, fulfillment centers, and manufacturing sites to greater success at a significant magnitude.
The functionality afforded by private 5G networks not only facilitates rapid innovation and provides security for critical business functions – it allows for the maximized productivity of automation technology across the board. The two solutions go hand in hand to provide sustained success and continuous ROI.
Let’s take a look at how 5G networks elevate autonomous mobile robots to their highest performance capabilities.
Warehouse Automation: What is an AMR?
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are self-operating vehicles, designed to perform key tasks in material handling environments. The latest generation of warehouse robots are equipped with sensors, cameras, and onboard computers that enable them to navigate and interact with their environment without human intervention. AMRs play a crucial role in improving operational efficiency, increasing productivity, and reducing labor costs.
How Warehouse Robots Operate:
Warehouse AMRs use a combination of technologies to intelligently navigate, operate and execute tasks in a dynamic environment. A unique technology stack sets AMRs apart from their predecessors, Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), which could only use infrastructural markers to navigate, like trains on a track. When it comes to AGVs vs AMRs, the latter are far less susceptible to delays and can avoid obstacles without help from human workers.
Automated warehouse robots can perform various tasks, including:
- Goods Transport: AMRs can move goods or materials within a warehouse from one location to another, eliminating the need for manual labor.
- Picking and Packing: AMRs navigate through warehouse aisles, locate products, and pick them from shelves. They can also pack items into boxes or containers.
- Inventory Management: AMRs can perform inventory checks by scanning barcodes or using RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) technology to track and update stock levels.
- Order Fulfillment: AMRs can be integrated with warehouse management systems to receive and execute order requests, optimizing the picking process and increasing order accuracy.
Overall Benefits: How 5G-enabled AMRs revolutionize operations
Warehouse automation brings many advantages. Here are just a few of the ways that these robots are transforming operations in material handling:
- Increased Efficiency: AMRs can operate continuously, leading to improved productivity and reduced cycle times. By carrying out repetitive tasks, they allow for scarce labor to be allocated to more difficult workflows.
- Cost Reduction: AMRs drastically improve throughput, often by nearly double. They also reduce labor costs and minimize the risk of human errors, ultimately improving the bottom line.
- Flexibility: Material handling facilities are highly variable environments. Robotic fleets can be reconfigured or can themselves adapt to changing warehouse layouts, workflows, or product types. Workers can also interact with the fleets’ user interface, deploying robots to wherever they are most needed.
- Data Insights: Warehouse AMRs generate valuable data about operations, inventory levels, and performance metrics, providing insights for process optimization and decision-making.
- Enhanced Safety: By taking over physically demanding or hazardous tasks, AMRs help create a safer working environment for human workers.
Why private 5G networks are critical to the success of AMRs and other automation systems:
Private 5G networks provide the necessary infrastructure and capabilities to empower warehouse robots, enabling them to operate with enhanced speed, precision, and intelligence. Here are just a few of the critical components private 5G provides to ensure the success of warehouse robots in modern industrial settings:
- Ultra-Low Latency: 5G networks offer ultra-low latency, meaning the time it takes for data to travel between the robot and the central control system is greatly reduced. This near real-time communication enables faster decision-making and responsiveness of autonomous robots, enhancing their overall efficiency and safety within a dynamic warehouse environment.
- High Bandwidth: Autonomous mobile robots generate and process vast amounts of data to operate safely and efficiently, including sensor data, high-resolution video feeds, and mapping information. 5G’s high bandwidth capabilities ensure that these robots can transmit and receive large volumes of data seamlessly. This enables real-time data analysis, sophisticated machine learning algorithms, and high-quality video streaming, all of which contribute to enhanced robot performance and situational awareness.
- Enhanced Connectivity: 5G offers improved connectivity compared to previous network generations. It provides a more reliable and stable connection, minimizing disruptions or signal drops that could impact the operation of autonomous mobile robots. This constant and uninterrupted connectivity is crucial for maintaining continuous communication between robots, control systems, and other devices within the warehouse ecosystem.
- Scalability: As with any business function or new technology investment, scalability is a critical factor. With systems like Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS), facilities can swap and scale their fleet as demand fluctuates. New financing programs allow for additional robots to be deployed or reconfigured easily to adapt to changing business needs —making your robotics solutions an annual operating expense. The financial flexibility and speed allow users to realize the throughput benefits (and ROI) of their automation solution much faster. This level of scalability could not be achieved without 5G networks that are capable of handling a massive number of connected devices simultaneously.
- Edge Computing: Private 5G networks support edge computing capabilities, where computational tasks are performed closer to the robots or at the network edge rather than relying solely on centralized cloud systems. This distributed computing paradigm reduces latency further and enables faster decision-making at the edge, empowering autonomous robots to make immediate responses and adaptations to their surroundings.
Integration and Connectivity: Getting to Peak Performance
Private 5G networks provide the necessary foundation for autonomous mobile robots to operate efficiently, effectively, and safely within warehouse environments. They enable real-time decision-making, seamless data transmission, and advanced capabilities that revolutionize the way facilities automate their operations.
With the stability of a private 5G network, AMRs can be integrated into existing warehouse management systems (WMS) and connected to other devices or equipment. This integration allows seamless communication and coordination between the robots and the overall warehouse ecosystem.
5G and Warehouse Automation: The evolution of the modern warehouse
Automation in warehousing is not just a trend, it’s a necessary upgrade that helps facilities keep pace within a volatile market. In fact, over 85% of surveyed material handling professionals plan introduce automation in the next few months.
Private 5G wireless networks connect AMRs and collaborative robots to achieve warehouse automation objectives, applying low latency where it counts the most. Taking advantage of a private 5G network behind a warehouse firewall offers security, data control, and better performance for both AMRs and any other business-critical applications.