The mobile warehouse robotics market – call them AMRs or AGVs. To me, the acronym isn’t as important as the capabilities and the value the systems deliver to warehouse operations.
There is a vast amount of buzz surrounding this market. And for good reason. There is real value that can be delivered by these systems and great growth potential. However, much of the press is focused on the venture capital funding and acquisitions occurring in the market (by the way, these investments reflect extremely high valuations). Also, there is a reasonably good amount of technical details on the robots themselves, if you check. However, I find that content on how robotics systems deliver value to their end-user customers is lacking. The means of value delivery will remain top of mind for me as I research the current state and future direction of the market. As part of this process, I plan to write customer case stories that describe the context of mobile robotics deployments, specific characteristics of the operations, and the types and sources of operational benefits.
For the purposes of this research, ARC Advisory Group has defined mobile warehouse robotics (see IFR defintion) as load carrying vehicles that travel under their own control with a level of autonomy adequate to perform intended tasks based on current state and sensing without human intervention. The robots in the system must be capable of dynamically traversing from origins to destinations along multiple paths. Within our scope, we are including autonomous mobile robots (AMR) that utilize advanced location, navigation and perception capabilities sufficient for collaborative settings and robots that travel along dynamic routes, executed segment by segment, within a grid network. We are explicitly excluding vehicles that travel along a static, fixed path, whether that path of travel is guided by physical or virtual wires or lines.
Dimensions of Distinction
In general, the value proposition of these robotics solutions is derived from a combination of factors including productivity, reliability, flexibility, and scalability. The solutions differ across a number of dimensions, including processes they support and how they orchestrate workflows and activities within a facility. Furthermore, load size and general activity profile of a facility is an essential determinant of the relative importance of a robotic system’s capabilities. Smaller load operations typically pursue opportunities for performance improvements through a number of potential efficiency improvements. These operations often involve a great deal of activity and travel distance per worker for a relatively small item size. Therefore, orchestration of work, flexibility of bot activity (for example, decoupling of worker from a bot), bot costs, and other means by which tasks can be executed with efficiency are primary factors of consideration. Meanwhile, larger load operations are also interested in performance improvements, but place greater emphasis on safety because loads are larger, heavier, less stable, and of greater value than small loads. Lifting capacity, safety, reliability, cost of set up, and comparisons to other mechanical alternatives (think forklifts) is of importance in these applications.
The mobile warehouse robotics market is an emerging market that has proven its value across a range of use cases, but it still at relatively low levels of current adoption. Put differently, there is still great opportunity for growth. It is my current assumption that the market has grown rapidly over the last few years and is likely to continue its growth in the years to come. However, this premise is certainly one I will be measuring, evaluating, and projecting during the research process. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions about my research into this market. It has been incredibly fascinating so far.