OPTIMISING WAREHOUSE LOGISTICS WITH AUTONOMOUS MOBILE ROBOTS (AMR)
Use robots where it makes sense and people to do higher-value tasks. That’s the philosophy behind the design of the entire logistics flow of ICM, one of Scandinavia’s leading suppliers of personal protective and technical equipment and work environment solutions. Indeed, as RARUK Automation confirms, ICM shares this aim with many users of its MiR autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in the UK and Ireland too.
The ICM high-tech warehouse, with its myriad of pallet transport operations running from 07:00-22:00 hours, is located in Odense in Denmark. Every year, tonnes of goods arrive at the logistics centre on a total of 31,000 pallets and ICM staff manage 100,000 orders, most of which are next-day deliveries. Space is limited, customers are impatient and competition is fierce. This means that time, personnel and space must be utilised optimally.
Thanks to an investment in three MiR1000 AMR robots, three employees now save several hours each on daily activities. They no longer have to spend time manually moving pallets from a stacker to the aisles in the high-rise warehouse. Instead, they can place the pallets on special MiR racks, from which the AMRs collect the pallets and transport them to the aisles inside the high-rise warehouse. The MiR robots leave the pallets at the end of the aisles to be collected by high-reach trucks that place them in the relevant racks.
“The high-reach truck operators automatically report when they have taken a pallet from a rack, so I can just press a button on the tablet screen and send one more MiR robot on a mission. This way the robots ensure the high-reach trucks are always supplied with pallets,” says Jesper Lorenzen, Warehouse Assistant and responsible for goods reception at ICM A/S.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) collaborate with people and trucks to save 40 hours a week
Using a map on a tablet in the truck, the truck operators can see at all times where the small robots are, and the AMRs make themselves noticeable using audio signals and lights in the busiest areas. This means that there is a close collaboration between the trucks and the AMRs and in a company with constant internal traffic, communication between vehicles is vital to avoid different machines blocking each other’s path.
ICM has made a dedicated route for the AMRs, freeing space for other traffic in the logistics centre. Previously, space was very cramped because of the many operations with manual stackers on the main traffic routes, which have now been replaced by the MiR robots. MiR’s fleet management software, MiR Fleet, also ensures that the tasks are optimally distributed between the AMRs, so that it is the robot that can carry out the task in the shortest time that is chosen. It also makes sure that the three MiR1000 automatically move to a charging station and charge up between tasks, so that downtime is optimised.
Overall, the AMRs have saved approximately 40 hours a week at ICM, time that the staff previously spent on internal transport and moving goods between the receiving area and the positioning areas. These employees can now focus on higher value activities, i.e. planning and optimisation.
Assessing, handling and prioritising the pallets and the contents is a complicated task that requires insight and experience because many parameters must be taken into consideration. Therefore, these tasks must be solved by people.
“The robots have saved time, which we can now use to optimise the warehouse and fine-tune flow. We have become used to the new technology and have learned to work in a completely different way. The more we apply it, the more time we save through automation using AMRs,” says Jesper Lorenzen.
User-friendly robots make the job more attractive
Logistics at the high-rise warehouse now proceed smoothly, using a modern mix of employees, AMRs and trucks. ICM’s setup consists of three AMRs, four manned high-reach trucks, 10 manual stackers and 26 dedicated employees.
The AMRs have not just increased efficiency at ICM. According to Brian Brandt, Warehouse Manager at ICM, they have also improved the working environment. He sees many positive perspectives on investing in technology that both increases capacity and job satisfaction.
“It’s just so much fun working with AMRs. Being able to move something from A to B without even touching it, that’s really cool. The design of the MiR robots is so simple and user-friendly that I could take a new colleague in from off the street, and they would also think they’re logical to use,” says Brian Brandt as he observes a MiR1000 robot moving past, carrying a 600 kg load of cleaning cloths on a pallet.
Improved work environment thanks to AMRs
Søren Jepsen, Supply Chain Director at ICM A/S, explains that devising the optimal workflow for the entire flow of traffic and transport of goods in the logistics centre has been a learning process.
“Our warehouse uses the chaotic storage principle, managed by a warehouse management system. We must be geared to be able to drop everything in order to be able to deliver within 24 hours to our customers in Denmark. This means it’s about using our resources shrewdly. We’re investing in new technology in order to safeguard our staff and to attract new, talented people,” says Søren Jepsen.
At ICM, the management sees clear potential in automating more processes. Right now, it is the flow from the goods receiving area to the storage aisles but, in the long term, ICM will also automate transport from picking to the delivery of goods and get even more benefit from the robots.