automated-material-handling-types-benefits-integration

The fast-paced market requires business owners across industries to adapt quickly and innovate the manufacturing process and management strategies. Thus, automated material handling (AMH) systems have become among the most innovative approaches these days. This article will unfold details on why it is crucial and how you can get the best out of them. Scroll down for further details.

Types of Automated Material Handling Systems

Conveyors

Conveyors are the backbone of many AMHS, providing a continuous and automated flow of materials throughout a facility. They eliminate the need for manual transport, improving efficiency, safety, and productivity.

Conveyor systems consist of a motorized drive system that propels a carrying medium along a predetermined path. Materials are loaded onto this medium and carried to their destination. They can be integrated with other AMH equipment like sorters, storage systems, and robotic arms for a fully automated workflow.

The type of conveyor best suited for an application depends on the material being handled, weight, size, and desired speed. Here are some common types:

  • Belt Conveyors: These are the most versatile type, using a continuous belt supported by rollers to transport a wide range of materials, from boxes to bulk goods. They are ideal for high-volume applications and can be inclined for vertical movement.
  • Roller Conveyors: These use free-rolling cylinders to move items with a flat, stable base. They are well-suited for sturdy items like pallets, crates, and totes. Roller conveyors can handle heavier loads than belt conveyors and are good for applications requiring frequent product direction changes.
  • Chain Conveyors: These employ a powered chain with attachments to move items along a track. They excel at handling unstable or oddly shaped products that might not track well on a belt. Chain conveyors can also provide accumulation capabilities, allowing items to back up temporarily without interrupting the flow.

Next, we will unfold common applications to each approach at the best suitability.

  • Belt Conveyors: Best for high-volume applications with various box sizes, parts, and materials. They are commonly found in assembly lines, packaging lines, and distribution centers.
  • Roller Conveyors: Ideal for warehouses, manufacturing plants, and pallet handling applications. They are efficient for moving heavy items and can be easily integrated with turntables for product redirection.
  • Chain Conveyors: Well-suited for automotive assembly lines, food processing facilities, and conveying unstable items like car parts or bagged goods. They can also be used in overhead conveyor systems for maximizing floor space.

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs)

AGVs are self-propelled mobile robots that navigate predetermined paths within a facility to transport materials. Unlike their autonomous mobile robot (AMR) cousins, AGVs rely on external guidance systems like wires embedded in the floor, magnetic tapes, lasers, or cameras for navigation.

AGVs follow a programmed route within a defined operating area. They are equipped with sensors to detect obstacles and safety features to prevent collisions. They can be loaded and unloaded manually or integrated with automated systems for a seamless material flow.

AGVs come in various configurations to suit different material handling needs:

  • Unit Load AGVs: These are the most common type, designed to carry individual pallets, totes, or containers. They can be equipped with forks, lifts, or other attachments for specific handling requirements.
  • Tow AGVs: These vehicles tow trailers loaded with materials, often used in applications requiring high capacity loads. They are efficient for moving multiple items at once.
  • Assembly Line AGVs: These AGVs are specifically designed for production lines, carrying materials and parts between workstations. They can be programmed to stop, start, and interact with other equipment seamlessly.

Here are some advantages of AGVs that convince you of applying this method:

  • Improved Efficiency: AGVs automate repetitive material handling tasks, freeing up human workers for more complex activities and increasing overall throughput.
  • Enhanced Safety: They eliminate the risk of forklift accidents and injuries associated with manual material handling.
  • Increased Productivity: Consistent and reliable movement of materials keeps production lines running smoothly and minimizes downtime.
  • Scalability: AGV systems can be easily expanded by adding more vehicles as needs evolve.
  • Space Optimization: AGVs can navigate tight aisles and utilize vertical space with appropriate guidance systems.

Every technique is not perfect, so you also need to see its disadvantages for your consideration.

  • Limited Flexibility: AGVs rely on predefined paths and may not be suitable for dynamic environments with frequent layout changes.
  • Higher Initial Investment: Compared to manual material handling systems, AGVs require a larger upfront cost.
  • Integration Complexity: Integrating AGVs with existing infrastructure and warehouse management systems can involve some planning and technical expertise.

Robotics

Robotics is transforming the landscape of AMH, bringing precision, speed, and flexibility to material handling tasks. Robots are programmable machines that can perform a wide range of functions, significantly improving efficiency and productivity within warehouses and production facilities.

Robots are taking on a growing role in AMH by:

  • Automating Repetitive Tasks: Robots excel at performing repetitive tasks like picking and placing items, palletizing, and machine loading/unloading, freeing up human workers for higher-level activities.
  • Enhanced Accuracy and Consistency: Robots operate with high precision, minimizing errors and ensuring consistent handling of materials, crucial for maintaining product quality and reducing damage.
  • Increased Throughput: Robots can operate 24/7 with minimal downtime, leading to a significant increase in material handling speed and overall throughput.
  • Improved Safety: Robots can handle hazardous materials or heavy loads, reducing the risk of injuries associated with manual material handling.

The factors used to classify the robot types are the specific application and material handling needs.

  • Articulated Arm Robots: These robots have a jointed arm that mimics human movement, offering high flexibility and dexterity. They are ideal for picking and placing items in various orientations, assembly tasks, and machine tending.
  • Gantry Robots: These robots move on a horizontal track system, offering a large workspace for handling heavy loads and oversized materials. They are commonly used in palletizing, de-palletizing, and machine loading/unloading applications.
  • SCARA Robots: These Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arms are fast and efficient for high-speed pick-and-place tasks in assembly lines and packaging applications.

Applying Robotics to Material Handling can help you earn many benefits, which explains why it is highly recommended.

  • Increased Efficiency and Productivity: Robots automate tasks and handle materials faster and more consistently than humans, leading to significant productivity gains.
  • Improved Accuracy and Quality Control: Robots operate with high precision, minimizing errors and ensuring consistent product quality.
  • Enhanced Safety: Robots can handle dangerous materials or heavy loads, reducing the risk of workplace injuries.
  • Greater Flexibility: Many robots are programmable for various tasks, allowing them to adapt to changing production needs.
  • Reduced Labor Costs: While there is an initial investment, robots can reduce long-term labor costs by automating tasks previously performed by human workers.

Benefits of Automated Material Handling Systems

Increased Efficiency

  • Reduced Travel Time: Automated systems like conveyors and AGVs move materials directly between designated points, eliminating unnecessary walking and searching for items by human workers.
  • Faster Processing: Automated picking and sorting systems can handle materials significantly faster than manual methods, leading to quicker order fulfillment and overall throughput.
  • Optimized Storage: AMHS can utilize vertical space with automated storage and retrieval systems, maximizing storage capacity and minimizing wasted floor space.
  • Reduced Errors: Automated systems operate with greater precision than humans, minimizing picking errors and product damage during handling.

Example: In a warehouse, an automated picking system can locate and retrieve items much faster than a manual process. This translates to quicker order fulfillment times and the ability to handle a higher volume of orders.

Enhanced Safety

  • Minimizing Manual Handling: Automating tasks that involve heavy lifting, repetitive motions, or hazardous materials reduces the risk of work-related injuries for employees.
  • Improved Ergonomics: AMHS can be designed to eliminate awkward postures and strenuous activities often associated with manual material handling.
  • Reduced Congestion: By automating the movement of materials, AMHS can minimize traffic congestion in warehouses and factories, creating a safer environment for workers and equipment.

Example: Replacing forklifts with automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for transporting heavy loads can drastically reduce the risk of forklift accidents and injuries.

Cost Savings

  • Reduced Labor Costs: Automating repetitive tasks reduces the need for manual labor, leading to lower payroll expenses. However, it’s important to consider retraining existing staff for higher-level roles.
  • Increased Productivity: Faster processing times and improved efficiency with AMHS lead to higher output and increased revenue generation.
  • Reduced Downtime: Automated systems operate reliably with minimal downtime for breaks or fatigue, compared to human workers.
  • Lower Maintenance Costs: Modern AMHS are often designed for lower maintenance requirements compared to traditional equipment like forklifts.

Example: Implementing an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) can significantly reduce the space needed for storing goods, leading to potential rent or lease cost savings.

Integration of Automated Material Handling Systems

Integration with existing systems might not be easy, which can cost you failures or challenges that you should know in advance. Hence, you can have better preparations for any possibilities.

  • Compatibility: New AMHS must be compatible with existing equipment, software, and communication protocols to avoid data silos and operational disruptions.
  • Workflow Changes: Integrating AMHS often necessitates adjustments to existing workflows and processes to ensure smooth operation and maximize automation benefits.
  • Training: Employees need proper training on how to operate and interact with the new automated systems.

These following strategies can be a great source of suggestions for seamless integration.

  • System Analysis: A thorough analysis of existing systems and processes is crucial to identify compatibility issues and potential bottlenecks.
  • Phased Implementation: A phased approach allows for gradual integration, minimizing disruption and allowing for troubleshooting and adjustments along the way.
  • Change Management: Communicate the benefits of AMHS to employees and involve them in the integration process to gain buy-in and minimize resistance.

We also walk you through some software and control Systems that you need for the process.

  • Warehouse Management Systems (WMS): WMS acts as the brain of the operation, managing inventory, order fulfillment, and communication with AMHS equipment.
  • Control Systems: These systems monitor and control the various AMHS components like conveyors, robots, and AGVs, ensuring they operate efficiently and safely.
  • Data Analytics: Modern AMHS collect vast amounts of data that can be analyzed to optimize performance, identify bottlenecks, and predict maintenance needs.

Ongoing maintenance is crucial for ensuring the smooth operation and longevity of AMHS. That’s why you should follow the suggestions below.

  • Preventive Maintenance: Regular maintenance schedules help prevent breakdowns and minimize downtime.
  • Remote Monitoring: Many AMHS systems offer remote monitoring capabilities to identify and address potential issues proactively.
  • Support Services: Reliable support services are important for troubleshooting problems, providing spare parts, and ensuring system optimization.

Conclusion

Automated material handling (AMH) systems are great for your business’s competitiveness in the fast-paced market. Besides its benefits, there are many challenges you need to know to have suitable strategies and tactics. We hope the insights shared in this article can help you have better understandings and pave the path for effective applications and management.