As warehouses and distribution centers continue to add automation, vendors have responded to demand with new offerings that they claim will add efficiency and flexibility. AutoGuide Mobile Robots today announced the MAX-N High Bay autonomous forklift and its Mobile Autonomous Storage and Retrieval System. The Chelmsford, Mass.-based company said these products will improve safety and productivity without requiring expensive infrastructure or reconfiguring of existing facilities.
“Previous systems lacked the intelligence to understand how to pick pallets for maximum efficiency and safety,” said Rob Sullivan, president and CEO of AutoGuide. “We’ve been rethinking automated storage and retrieval with our advanced sensor suite and software architecture.”
“E-commerce is a $4.2 trillion business, and 4 in 5 consumers expect merchants to deliver items the next day,” he told Collaborative Robotics Trends. “Warehouse challenges include 300% turnover, a 70% utilization rate, and low profit margins.”
AutoGuide MAX-N High Bay extends AMR reach
MAX-N High Bay can travel up to 4 mph and can lift payloads weighing up to 2,400 lb. up to 36 ft. high, said AutoGuide. The counterbalanced forklift is fully autonomous, exceeds American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards, and can follow approved paths to reduce risk to human workers.
The robot uses lidar scanners and simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) to map facilities so that magnetic tape is not required for navigation or obstacle detection. It also has sensors to precisely pick pallets, identify empty ones, and locate a specific license plate number (LPN) in a stack of pallets, said AutoGuide.
In addition, MAX-N High Bay works with AutoGuide’s SurePath Enterprise software to receive data from existing order management and warehouse management systems (WMS). SurePath can determine the most efficient routes for the autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).
“We analyzed other companies that have high-bay AGVs [automated guided vehicles],” said Sullivan. “They’re not making full use of sensing technology. We’re already fully autonomous, not only for driving, but also for picking and placing. Our systems can understand the entire payload and racking structure.”
MAX-N High Bay is built on AutoGuide’s patent-pending modular adapters, which enable the base AMR to be transformed from a three-stage forklift to a pallet stacker or a tow tractor. “We spent a long time getting the base platform to work well,” Sullivan said.
Mobile ASRS designed for fast deployment
Conventional automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), which move totes of goods to pickers, can take years to deploy, said AutoGuide. Materials at the receiving dock are typically transported by manually operated forklifts to a conveyor system, which moves them into the ASRS infrastructure.
“There are more than 2,000 smaller warehouses in the U.S., and ASRS can cost $40 million to $80 million. That capital expenditure is out of reach for small and midsize enterprises,” Sullivan said. “Our solution is to apply autonomous robot technology to ASRS.”
The company said its Mobile Autonomous Storage and Retrieval System applies precision inventory management to pallets and can be rolled out in weeks rather than months. AutoGuide said its Mobile ASRS uses multiple mobile robots connected to inventory management systems to deliver items.
Customers do not have to deal with large cranes or custom pallets, and they can realize returns on investment (ROI) more quickly, claimed the company.
“Cranes are single points of failure, and traditional ASRSes are complex and inflexible. Inventory inaccuracies remain an issue,” said Sullivan. “Our Mobile ASRS works within existing racking and pallet systems. Because it is not fixed equipment, it enables companies to start small with a couple of bays and grow as their needs change.”
The Mobile ASRS does not require dedicated storage and retrieval zones, said the company. The system can work with AutoGuide’s high-payload AMRs, including the MAX-N Pallet Stacker, the MAX-N Tugger, and the new MAX-N High Bay forklift.
The Mobile ASRS also includes SurePath Enterprise for maximum efficiency in putaway, picking, and shipping processes, stated the company.
“It’s the first fully autonomous ASRS on the market,” Sullivan said. “While a crane system has to drop off at the end of an aisle, our AMRs can pick from both sides, and there’s not a lot of WIP [work-in-progress] buffer zones, so throughput is higher than with traditional manual operations or ASRS.”
AutoGuide keeps pace with MAX-N, Mobile ASRS innovation
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted supply chains, AutoGuide has kept busy, said Sullivan.
“While automotive manufacturing stopped after MODEX [in March 2020], e-commerce continued,” he said. “It has taken time for automotive and others to come back for capital acquisitions, but we never stopped with research and development in Chelmsford and testing in Lawrence, [Mass.]. We sent people home for two to three weeks, but we never stopped manufacturing in Lexington, Ky., or sending engineers to do installations.”
The company, which was a 2020 RBR50 innovation award winner, was acquired last year by Teradyne Inc., which also owns collaborative robot leader Universal Robots A/S (UR) and Mobile Industrial Robots ApS (MiR). How has that helped AutoGuide?
“We’re still run as a standalone business, but we use Teradyne’s marketing and worked with its compliance team to make sure the tugger and pallet stacker are CE-compliant,” explained Sullivan. “Teradyne has also helped us get to MiR and UR customers, and we’ve worked with MiR’s team on sensors, software, and reporting.”
“Instead of a WMS, manual forklifts, and a traditional ASRS, with AutoGuide’s SurePath Enterprise, the MAX-N High Bay, conveyor, and tugger, you can stage in the dock with no tooling for fully autonomous storage and retrieval,” he said. “I had a lot of experience from Brooks Automation and Symbotic, and this architecture was our plan all along. We’ve been working on the Mobile ASRS and High Bay for about a year.”
Testing and price point
“We’ve been extremely selective with beta customers, which have to be large companies,” Sullivan said. “They have to have the right problem. Setup time, including integration with WMS, can take six months. Some start with a call-button system. We’re looking at ROI under two years, less if you look at the scarcity and especially the costs of high-bay operators.”
“Our price point is 60% to 70% lower than for traditional ASRS,” he added. “An existing pallet stacker can take a year and a half, and our modular design and software are useful for many different workflows.”