Autonomous Mobile Robots: The Next Revolution

Autonomous Mobile Robots: The Next Revolution

Andy Larson | September 1st, 2016

Meet the Adept Lynx™

There is no doubt that the rate of change in factory automation is increasing.  One area of the automation that has been stagnant for some time now is how we move parts to and from our machines and through our factories.  In the past, our primary choices have been:

  • People carrying bins, pushing carts, or driving fork trucks
  • Conveyors - lots of variety in form and capabilities
  • Traditional Automated Guided Vehicles  

If you were to ask a Plant Manager or Production Engineer which is their preferred method you would likely get a shrug and response along the lines of “Hard to have a favorite, none of them are great solutions”:

  • People - although incredibly flexible but if the goal is to use human talent to improve a product or process there is little need here but dull, dangerous, and dirty jobs.
  • Conveyors - as impressive and robust as some conveyors are they take up a significant amount of valuable floor space and are fixed in place.  If your process or production requirements change you have to change them too.  Not the epitome of flexible manufacturing.
  • AGV’s - My hat is off the AGV manufacturers - the technology that goes into making these work is amazing and they can be great solutions as long as you don’t change anything in your plant or process.

Thankfullly, something significant is happening that will bring about a change to this.

Imagine what would happen if you took the concept of an AGV but freed it from the constraints of having to follow a specific path. Imagine if it could survey its surroundings and make choices, going around an obstacle or even choosing a different path (think traffic alerts in Google Navigation). Should you want or need to move a piece of equipment or change your process, within in minutes you could add or update the new waypoints for your vehicle to stop at. If you want to have another section of your facility to be serviced by your automated vehicle, this can be done in hours without having to make any costly modifications to your infrastructure.

Enter the Autonomous Mobile Robots

So who are the players in this market?  Although there are a number of providers that will show up in a google search, in reality  there are just a few that have serious offering. Only one of them has been implementing this technology on factory floor for over 5 years, Omron Adept Technology.  That’s right, the same company (Adept) that is considered by many to be the reason why we have industrial robots today, is the one that is ahead of the curve in pioneering this next wave of robotic automation with its Lynx AIV platforms.  

Although the hardware is important, what makes a solution like this successful is its software.  As with any other robot solution, it normally follows that the longer a solution has been around the more robust and feature rich the software is (a great example of this is Adept’s fixed arm software ACE and V+).  In the Mobile Robot world this is equally true.  

It’s one thing to manage a single robot, it’s quite another to manage a fleet.  Additionally, being able to tie this fleet management to your operational requirements, a significant task that is complicated and takes experience to pull off seamlessly.  I would encourage you to evaluate Omron Adept’s suite of software options (MobilePlanner, MobileEyes, and Enterprise Manager) for yourself as you look into your options.

The Robotic Revolution Continues to Evolve

In short, there is another revolution in industrial automation coming. One that is based on some very impressive technology, but at the end of the day will reduce the number dull, dangerous, and dirty jobs, improve productivity, decrease Work in Progress, and accommodate rapid product and process changes.  The great news is, this is just the beginning.

May We Assist with Your Revolution?

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Andy Larson

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CrossRobotics Business Manager with Cross Company Motion Solutions. Specialties include all things robotics, machine design, electro-mechanical systems, servos, automation, mechatronics & manufacturing. Follow Andy @AndyCrossCo.