7 Things You Need to Know Before Adding AGVs/AMRs to your Warehouse

Posted: April 24, 2024

AGVs in warehouse

It’s 2024, so one would be forgiven for assuming that most warehouses are full of autonomous robots ferrying cargo from shelves to shipping docks. In reality, the vast majority of warehouses have no material handling automation capabilities. 

Despite record growth in automation for the warehousing/material handling sector, even the most optimistic projections estimate that by 2027 only 26 percent of warehouses will have some level of automation - and the percentage relying on AGVs or AMRs is below 10 percent.

Below we’ll explain some of the challenges of making AGVs/AMRs work in warehousing, what you need to know if you’re thinking about using them to supplement your warehouse operations, and why a trusted automation partner is critical to success.

About AGVs/AMRs for Warehouse Automation

Automated Guided Vehicles (AMRs) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are what most people think of when they envision the future of warehousing and material handling. 

  • AGVs are automated vehicles guided by wires, magnetic strips, or markers and are capable of performing a variety of tasks - like transporting material between locations in a warehouse.
  • AMRs use a combination of sophisticated facility mapping and machine vision (sensors and cameras) to perceive their environment and make real-time navigation decisions to move cargo efficiently. 

The push to integrate AGVs and AMRs into warehouse ecosystems is a trend driven by the explosion in ecommerce over the past few years, combined with a tight labor market and complicated by the need for faster order fulfillment (while also reducing operational costs). Unfortunately, adoption remains relatively low - preserving the window of opportunity for warehousing companies looking for an edge.

The Current Warehouse Automation Landscape

The landscape of warehouse automation is increasingly dynamic because of rapid advancements in technology and ever-mounting competition to streamline operations. 

Of the minority of warehousing operations that do use some level of automation - the majority rely on more “traditional” automation technologies like conveyance systems, automated storage/retrieval (AS/RS) systems, and robotic arms for picking/packing/sorting.

Considerations When Implementing AGVs/AMRs for Warehouse Automation

In order for AGVs/AMRs to be ready for prime time in warehouse automation, there are several factors to consider.

Navigation and Mapping

A common challenge for autonomous vehicles in warehouse automation is achieving precise navigation and mapping within complex and constantly-changing environments. Vehicles are equipped with sophisticated sensors (like LIDAR, optical cameras, ultrasonics) and algorithms to identify their location, avoid obstacles, and navigate through narrow aisles and around high shelves. 

Load Capacity

Many people fail to consider how weight impacts the performance of AGVs/AMRs. The vehicles must be properly sized to meet load capacity needs. If undersized, the vehicles can slow down their speeds and bog down operations - negating their benefits. Additionally, if the program requires multiple load sizes, AGV/AMR paths must be programmed to handle the largest/widest possible load they may carry (because the AGV/AMR won’t perceive different load sizes).

Battery Life

Although we’ve made fantastic strides in battery life (and advances like contactless/wireless charging and fast charging) , even the most advanced AGV/AMR is limited by how much juice it has to run– leading to disruptions in operations. As a result, it’s critical to design your system with charging in mind. Considering items such as fleet size and charging time is important to maintain continuous operations. 

Interoperability and System Integration

Integrating AGVs/AMRs into existing warehouse management systems (WMS) and workflows will require fleet management software. Vehicles need to communicate seamlessly not only with the WMS, but with other robotics and human workers to coordinate tasks and share real-time data . Too often warehousing companies are unable to mesh together their digital solutions platforms and communication protocols for these complex data exchanges.

Scalability and Flexibility

As you’ll find below, the investment in AGVs/AMRs can be significant as a result of the additional hardware and software needed  for operation (which includes chargers, software, manual pendants, QR codes and other navigation equipment). These systems need to be future-proof so that they can continue providing value as the organization scales and evolves.

Financial and Logistical Planning

In addition to the technological planning you’ll need to do to implement AGVs/AMRs in your warehouse operations, you’ll want to prepare for the initial investment and the operational disruption you’ll experience during the install phase.

High Initial Investment

Depending on the size of your program, implementing AGVs/AMRs into your warehouse operations can require a significant initial capital investment. You’re not just paying for the vehicles themselves - you also need the infrastructure they’ll operate on. This includes everything from charging stations to software, to physical modifications to the warehouse environment to accommodate the AGVs/AMRs.

Operational Disruption During Implementation

As you would expect, implementing a game-changing technology like AGVs/AMRs into warehouse operations will cause disruptions as traditional methods are transitioned to automated operations. Warehouse operations may need to be reconfigured, the system needs to be thoroughly tested, and staff need to be trained to safely interact with these new technologies. Additionally, once the program is up and running, there is a time period of learning and adjusting to ensure a smooth operation.

AGV/AMR Automation in Warehousing Done Right

Though AGVs/AMRs can be challenging to implement for warehouse automation - it’s possible with the right preparation and an experienced automation partner. JR Automation has decades of experience to help you design and build a flexible, scalable warehousing automation solution to upgrade or replace your current technology.  Contact us to find out how we can help you add AGVs/AMRs to your warehousing automation roadmap.