As automation becomes the new normal for manufacturing and warehouse operations in the age of Industry 4.0, the options to help you get there are rapidly evolving. Technologies like unmanned forklifts, collaborative robot arms, enhanced sorting/picking, and smart conveyors are advancing while costs continue to decrease; making these options more accessible for companies of all sizes.
One such advancement attracting much attention recently has been the advent of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) as smarter, more flexible alternatives to Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) for a wide variety of material handling activities. If you are considering these options to streamline your operations, it first helps to understand the difference between these two automation alternatives.
What is an AGV?
An Automated Guided Vehicle, or AGV, is an industrial vehicle that can be pre-programmed to transport goods in a warehouse or manufacturing environment.
- Navigation: Traditionally guided by magnetic strips or wires installed on or under a warehouse floor
- Deployment: Requires installation of navigation guides, sometimes requiring substantial facility renovation
- Operational Flexibility: Altering AGV operating patterns requires repeating the entire deployment process
- Responsiveness: Limited flexibility to adapt to changing environment or changing workflow
What is an AMR?
An Autonomous Mobile Robot or AMR is a vehicle that uses on-board sensors and processors to autonomously move materials without the need for physical guides or markers. It learns its environment, remembers its location, and dynamically plans its own path from one waypoint (a location or destination within the environment) to another.
- Navigation: Using technology such as LiDAR sensors & Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM), an AMR will determine the best route between waypoints
- Deployment: This can vary, but great AMRs can be unboxed and put to work in less than 15 minutes
- Operational Flexibility: An AMR will dynamically plan the shortest path based on current conditions and requirements, if the work changes from one day to the next, the AMR’s route will change with it
- Responsiveness: AMRs will automatically sense and avoid obstacles and blocked paths to find the best route to its next waypoint
When weighing AGVs vs. AMRs, it may be tempting to lean towards a solution with a lower price point. However, there are other factors that will impact the overall cost of mobile robots, and the potential return on investment for your company.
While AGVs typically cost less per robot than AMRs, you must also consider the costs you will incur to set up, deploy, reconfigure, and operate them. AGVs usually require the installation of physical guides, under-floor wiring, or surface tape to allow the AGV to navigate and locate itself in its surroundings. And if you need to install sensors beneath the floor, that means lost hours to renovation, plus the cost of the actual work.
Once you’ve prepared your physical environment, you must deploy the AGV into your operation with a predetermined path that is based on the work being done at the time. The AGV will run on a set course unable to move around unexpected obstacles that get in its way. Oftentimes, the AGV will stop completely until the path is fully cleared. And if your environment changes or the work changes, you will incur additional costs to reconfigure your system and repeat the deployment process.
In contrast, a great AMR requires no alterations to your current facility, and can autonomously navigate through manufacturing and warehouse spaces. It learns its environment, remembers its location, and dynamically plans its own path from one destination to another. If its path is blocked, an AMR can reroute itself with no assistance.
The sensors an AMR uses to navigate ensure that it can operate safely in a dynamic environment alongside humans and material handling equipment. And because an AMR is not a permanent structure in the facility, it can be moved and re-deployed with minimal cost as your business grows and changes over time. In fact, an AMR can work in one part of the facility in the morning and be deployed for a completely different task later in the day.
Which Should You Choose?
AGV – Useful but Limited
If your company rarely changes, in terms of products produced, operational workflow, or in your workforce, then an AGV may be a good fit. However, if you’re in the majority of manufacturers and warehouses that see rapid changes in their material flow, work stations, or product mix, all of that change demands a smarter robot that can change with you.
AMR – Advanced, Flexible, Accessible
AMRs are collaborative and flexible to keep up with future opportunities that come to manufacturing and warehouse operations. They can avoid obstacles, and unburden workers from repetitive or back-breaking work so these workers can focus on more valuable and fulfilling jobs.
Most importantly, AMRs that are easy to set up and use enable immediate ROI. If workers are able to unbox and start using an autonomous mobile robot in less than 15 minutes, without a roboticist needed to install it; then they are empowered to use these tools with confidence and take pride in making their companies more efficient and competitive.
Flexibility, advanced navigation, and ease of deployment make AMRs the perfect solution to get you started in automating your dynamic operations and empowering your valued workforce who are on the job today.