The advantages of standard mobile robot equipment (MRE) are well-recognized by experienced integrators, for many reasons. We talked to three of our international system integrators to get their insights on why companies need to carefully decide on standard vs. customized MRE, including safety implications and tips for long-term success.
Responses are from Neil Moss, Business Development Manager, iconsys, UK; Laurent Jabre, Director, Integrated Control Solutions, UK; and Lennart Carlier, Sales Engineer, Contec Industrial Control Solutions, Belgium.
ROEQ: Companies looking at autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) often think primarily about the mobile robot, but experienced systems integrators have to look at the entire application, including mobile robot equipment (MRE). How do you walk customers through those decisions?
Neil Moss, iconsys: Initially the end customer’s focus is the AMR only, but as an experienced integrator we take them through a journey of discussing different options for an application. For example, a standard tote can be transferred by an AMR with a conveyor module or a basic lifting mechanism on a plinth. The same applies to the movement of pallets. ROEQ has standard off-the-shelf roller conveyor and lifting modules to help in both cases.
Laurent Jabre, Integrated Control Solutions (ICS): Integrated Control Solutions Ltd (ICS) focuses on all aspects of logistics, line control, and handling of end-of-line products within the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector. Our customers understand by now the advantages and flexibility offered by AMRs compared to automated guided vehicles (AGVs). Since in the FMCG sector finished products are transported in boxes, crates, or pallets, it is unconceivable to design a solution without combining ROEQ top module to MiR AMRs. An AMR is incapable of transporting the finished products on its own; it requires the means to place the finished products on top of it which is accomplished through the MRE. Thankfully, the variety and standardized ROEQ top modules developed for each MiR product allow tailormade solutions for every customer while using standard, safe, and regulated MiR-ROEQ pairs, thus improving project’s return on investment (ROI) and decreasing total cost of ownership (TCO).
Lennart Carlier, Contec Industrial Control Solutions: We need to check at every location where the robot needs to deliver or pick up goods how the goods can be transferred (conveyor, manual, use of shelf/cart). For some goods this might change depending on the location. Therefore, we need to go through the layout together with the customer to check how they currently work and how they could work in the future to suggest the best solution. Sometimes replacing the current way of working with an AMR + MRE solution is economically not ideal and changes to the logistic process should be considered. Making customers aware of that and starting the process to change this would be the first step towards the final solution.
ROEQ: Complex deployments may require customization, but are there advantages to implementing standard MRE whenever possible (e.g., after-sales service and support, total cost of ownership, ROI)?
Neil Moss, iconsys: Wherever possible iconsys uses standard modules from ROEQ – we know that the engineering design and implementation has already been done, therefore we do not have to reinvent the wheel. And there’s the added knowledge that we have the backing of ROEQ with regards to after-sales service and support.
Laurent Jabre, ICS: Standard MREs are as important as standard AMRs or any standard equipment we install and commission. Spare parts are much easier to find and regulatory compliance issues are reduced; therefore, downtime is drastically reduced, ROI increased and TCO decreased. We explain to our customers that because of the diversity of standard ROEQ top modules, creativity and tailormade solutions are still possible while improving after-sale reactivity. Finally, tinkered top modules have not passed rigorous safety tests and end up being a false economical solution.
Lennart Carlier, Contec: Standard MRE solution have economic advantages as well as giving the customer confidence it has been proven to work. In this way, the customer will more easily adapt to a standard solution than a custom one.
ROEQ: Market projections show a growing trend towards mobile robots to as high as 40 billion US dollars by 2030. What does that growth mean for integrators in terms of being able to keep up with projects and turn them around more quickly?
Neil Moss, iconsys: As an integrator, time to market and to implement our solution for the customer will be a key element. That is why iconsys endeavors to use standard top modules from ROEQ wherever possible as this reduces the time required during the engineering design and manufacturing phases of the project.
Laurent Jabre, ICS: In our sector, the AMR/MRE applications are still in early adoption stage which is gradually growing. We believe that a fast-growing trend towards mobile robots will present great opportunities for both customers and integrators. Standardization and cross utilization of any AMR with any MRE will increase. This will push prices down and make these solutions affordable for a greater number of customers. ICS is positioning itself and developing its core capabilities and know-how to be the go-to integrator for such solutions.
ROEQ: How does the choice of MRE impact the safety of the deployed application?
Neil Moss, iconsys: As a turnkey Integrator of mobile robot applications, iconsys must risk assess and CE-mark the complete application. Therefore, the choice of off-the-shelf top modules from ROEQ aid the process as they are already designed with built-in safety functions.
Laurent Jabre, ICS: Safety is at the core of ICS’ business. As integrators, we aim to always have the customer’s safety and long-term return on investment as essential pillars of the solutions and designs we propose. Our customers also have safety thresholds they cannot compromise on. Furthermore, safety is compounded: if one element of a chain has lower safety standards, the entire chain is downgraded to the lowest denominator. Consequently, the MRE we choose when tailoring our design to the customer’s objectives must have adequate embedded safety; otherwise, it cannot be proposed to our customers.
Lennart Carlier, Contec: The MRE should be chosen to keep the safety level of the AMR robot. A bad selection of MRE could make it more dangerous to deploy and ask for external measures to be taken. This drives up cost and the AMR loses its collaboration advantages, making it less interesting.
ROEQ: Do you have any advice for companies who are just beginning their exploration of automated material transport?
Neil Moss, iconsys: My advice for companies is to document all non-value-added material movements within your factory. How many trolleys are being manually pushed from A to B along with distances? Think about replacing driven forklifts by using AMRs and document the amount of these movements. Document the sizes of stillages you have and are moving, including weights and sizes of product within those stillages. Think about your end goal: Is it to automate all material movement within the factory? An experienced integrator should be able to break down the approach into clear, manageable integration steps to get to that end goal.
Laurent Jabre, ICS: Companies that are just beginning their exploration of automated material transport should not be afraid of the disruptive solution they present. From a software perspective, they are not more complex to control when compared to conventional robots or line systems, but on the other hand, present more production agility and ongoing design flexibility. New adopters should avoid the temptation to tinker parts of the solution such as the top modules as this is a false perceived economy. The more dangerous consequence is that safety may be compromised, and accidents could occur. Finally, this is an emerging market that will only grow, and being an early adopter will give them a competitive edge based on flexibility, efficiency, and cost control.
Lennart Carlier, Contec: Check the company’s layout and try to create a unidirectional flow through the plant where possible. This will make integration easier and the capacity per robot bigger. Create a uniform way of picking up and delivering goods (EU/industrial pallets, shelfs/cart, bins, conveyors, etc). This would result that AMR + MRE solution can be deployed for more tasks.
Many thanks to our panelists for their insights!
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