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Augmenting the Workforce with Autonomous Mobile Robots

Augmenting the Workforce with Autonomous Mobile Robots


By Aik Jin, Tan, Vertical Solutions Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific

The global workforce is currently experiencing “The Great Reshuffle”[1] – a phenomenon that is creating labour shortages across many supply chain sectors, including manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics. Similarly, several Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, are grappling with labour shortages that are straining the global supply chain. These countries continue to face disruptions in workforce movements due to the COVID-19 pandemic[2].  

As such, businesses in Asia should consider augmenting their workforce with robotics automation solutions to mitigate the challenges of labour shortages and the resulting impact on supply chain operations. As pointed out by many globally-lauded roboticists, such as my Zebra colleague Melonee Wise, Vice President of Robotics Automation, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are proving to be one of the best ways to close the labour gap and make it a non-issue.

Navigating the Warehouse Effectively

AMRs can relieve humans of simple and repetitive tasks, such as walking back and forth to ensure raw materials, finished goods, and empty cardboard boxes get to the right place at the right time. With the help of these mobile robots, workers can produce, pick, pack or put away more items than before with minimal movements. In fact, many manufacturing, warehousing and logistics companies are increasingly turning to robotic material handling solutions such as AMRs to move materials from staging to storage areas to workstations and then transport completed orders to the packing area. As reported in Zebra’s Warehousing Asia Pacific Vision Study, several decision-makers plan to use robotics for inbound inventory management (27%) by 2024.

Thanks to technological advancements, warehouse operators no longer need to set up a dedicated, human-free zone to utilize these robots. Today’s AMRs are equipped with obstacle avoidance technology that enables them to safely navigate warehouses filled with people, lift trucks, pallet racks and inventory shelving. They are also cloud-based, so they can be easily integrated into existing operational processes in just a few hours and remotely managed and scaled as needed.

As a result, some businesses have seen improvements in productivity by augmenting their workforce with AMRs[3].

Mitigating Labor Challenges

As supply chains continue to experience the labour crunch, investing more in AMRs could bring a silver lining to the situation.

By utilizing mobile robots, manufacturers, warehouse operators and other logistics companies can maintain operational continuity even when facilities are not fully staffed. There is also an opportunity to employ workers who cannot work in labour-intensive roles. It takes a lot of strength and stamina to push heavy carts up and down aisles for extended periods. However, AMRs can take on that burden by transporting items from one station to the next for workers. People can stay in their designated pick zones or work cells, and the AMRs can come to them to pick up or deliver items. Additionally, AMRs can follow pickers around, guiding them through pick lists. Workers can be told exactly where to go next and what to grab when they get there. Once the cart or bin is full, the AMR can move it to the production line or packing station, and another AMR can step in so the worker can remain productive. The benefit of AMR-assisted picking is that a new worker could be fully productive on day one, simply by following instructions provided via the mobile robot’s onboard screen or the worker’s headset.

A distributor of automotive electrical components confirms this benefit, reporting a significant reduction in workers’ walking requirements after integrating AMRs to move items. Its picking team was able to stay productive and focused on customer orders, which resulted in a 25% increase in throughput overall.[4]

The Right Time to Adopt Robotics Automation

Automation is allowing organizations to create different types of work environments. This empowers employees to deliver more value in new roles that can be more fulfilling and career elevating. Driven by the labor shortage, supply chain operations are now ripe for automation and, specifically, the more expansive presence of AMRs.

Manufacturers must learn to take advantage of the flexibility and scalability of today’s robotics automation solutions. Cloud-based AMRs can be fully operational and productive within hours of arrival, allowing workers to become exponentially more efficient overnight. Employees can be visually and verbally guided through workflows that process engineers choreograph. Operation systems can easily be adjusted when needed, ensuring that production, fulfilment, and other logistics processes proceed smoothly. As such, using AMRs to augment labour and close fulfillments gaps will raise morale and efficiency in the warehouse.

Learn more about how you can use mobile autonomous robots to augment your workforce here.

[1] World Economic Forum, 7 Feb 2022
[2] Business Insider, 15 Oct 2021
[3] Association for Advancing Automation, 17 Jun 2019
[4] Fetch Robotics