Given the amazing things happening with autonomous mobile robotics, decision makers within many companies can easily imagine how efficient these systems could make their own facilities. Research into viable options, however, can be overwhelming. There are many great systems out there – and you can automate to levels only dreamed of a short time ago. Many of these systems are large, complex, and deeply intertwined with your processes, ERP systems, network and – most importantly – your staff.
If you approach automation hastily, things may not go well. The sizable investment for mobile robots requires that system implementation be properly planned out, involves the right team members, and follows the following 8 critical steps:
- Form a Robotics Committee
- Specify a Budget
- Identify Potential Suppliers and Platforms
- Perform Due Diligence
- Place Your Orders
- Prepare Your Facility
- Test and Validate
- Define Ongoing Maintenance Needs
Though some of these steps may be more applicable than others depending on your specific situation and business, all of these elements play an important role in the long term success of your robotics implementation.
Implementing a new autonomous mobile robotics system is a massive undertaking. You need a full Robotics Committee that represents all disciplines involved including: management, accounting, manufacturing, facilities, IT, and perhaps others depending on your organizational structure. This committee must exist for the long term since the only constant is change in product lines, production, quantities, and many other possible business pivots now and in the future.
There are many great systems out there – and you can automate to levels only dreamed of a short time ago. Many of these systems are large, complex, and deeply intertwined with your processes, ERP systems, network and – most importantly – your staff.
It is critical that companies determine the true cost of implementing an autonomous robotics system. Robots typically range in price from $30,000 to $100,000 each, so being deliberate in determining the number needed and understanding related costs is essential to prevent budget overruns and surprise charges. Other charges that must be considered include software, consulting, updates and service contracts.
Once you have your requirements identified and your budget defined, it’s time to find a list of robotics platform suppliers that align with your needs in key areas:
- Robots (Hardware)
- Integration Consultants
- Maintenance Company (if applicable)
Similarly, you may have to factor in hiring permanent internal staff to maintain the robotics system in terms of infrastructure, repairs, and software/system updates.
After narrowing down suppliers to the best few, take a deeper look at their histories, reputations, and the relationships they maintain within their supply chains. Read reviews and articles online. Talk to their existing customers. Pursue whatever information you need to make an informed and confident decision. Once you commit to a platform, there is no way to change course without losing significant time and money.
To procure all of the necessary elements for your system as well as manage lead times and logistics, you should involve firms with specialized services in key areas, including:
- Physical robotic platform
- Consultation and contracts (including long term contracts)
- Software, including packages, licenses, annual renewals, and/or updates
- Contractor to provision your facility for Wi-Fi, electrical work, etc., if needed
Whether you’re doing the updates internally or hiring help, preparing your facility for an autonomous robotics system could mean initiating and overseeing modifications, such as:
- Wi-Fi or other signal integration (varies by robot provider/type)
- Floor rearrangement to accommodate robots
- Safety fencing for areas designated as “robot-only”
- Regular communication to facility teams on what’s planned and current status
Once all of these steps have been completed, you are ready to begin testing. In addition, you also must verify that the efficiency you hoped to gain will be realized. Calculations must include the intended savings and comparing that to the new process efficiency to prove the ROI:
- Hardware Testing – Robots operate as intended.
- Software Testing – Programs and functions work seamlessly, and people are trained appropriately. Software integrations perform as expected.
- Safety Testing — Staff working in the same areas as robots are aware of protocols.
To ensure maximum overall effectiveness, it is in your best interest to review testing with an ongoing feedback loop that focuses on system performance and safety.
You will need ongoing services to maintain every aspect of the automation system – software updates, hardware repairs and upgrades, and process development. It is also important to keep improvements top-of-mind. That way, you can leverage the system and ensure targeted ROI and profitability.
Mobile Robots For the Rest of Us
GMI Solutions, a contract manufacturing firm in the United States, went through this 8-step process when debating various autonomous mobile robotics implementations. The company was wasting resources continually transporting of products within their 50,000 square foot facility. The challenge was critical, but it it did not justify investment in any of the autonomous transportation options that required huge sums to get started.
As a result, GMI launched MūL Technologies. GMI decision makers surmised that they were not the only ones looking for a simple automation system that did not require Wi-Fi, training, system integration, and other expensive complexities. MARC, the flagship product from MūL Technologies, is an affordable, operationally intuitive, point-to-point autonomous cart that requires no complex infrastructure to operate. It is advanced technology, simplified to address practical needs.
Editors Note: Robotics Business Review would like to thank MūL Technologies for permission to reprint the original article (found HERE).
Hans Dittmar has been in charge of marketing for MūL Technologies since the company was founded by a seasoned management team within GMI Solutions, a contract manufacturing firm founded in 1983 in Wisconsin. He joined GMI in 1994 and since 2002 has been in charge of GMI’s Marketing, and is involved in corporate strategic planning, various business processes and engineering, including the technological advances in core capabilities.